House Finance takes up operating budget

JUNEAU — The House Finance Committee plans to advance the state operating budget Wednesday, after adding dozens of additional spending items and other amendments.


Not included in Tuesday’s amendments: Gov. Sean Parnell’s request for $30.3 million for school energy and student transportation costs. Committee co-chair Bill Thomas, R-Haines, said after the hearing that the panel did not have enough time to do a thorough analysis of the plan, which Parnell proposed last week. Thomas said the funding is still in play and could be included in a future education bill.

All told, about $18.7 million was added Tuesday, leaving the spending plan at about $9.5 billion. The committee plans to move the bill out Wednesday, with the next stop being a floor vote. The Senate will then get the bill.

Among the items added Tuesday: additional university funding, including $873,200 for a program that provides at-risk students help toward graduating college — a request of the governor’s — and $800,000 for additional staff and support at the College of Engineering and Mines.

The bill restores funds for a pre-kindergarten program; cuts made in subcommittee to pre-kindergarten and teacher mentoring programs raised concerns about whether those cuts would result in a violation of an agreement to settle a lawsuit over education quality.

Tom Begich, the political director for the Citizens for the Educational Advancement of Alaska’s Children, the group that settled the education lawsuit with the state earlier this year, said the group would continue to pursue the mentoring money. But he said he is pleased by the committee’s action on the pre-K funding, saying that showed good faith.

The bill also adds $1 million for efforts to fight obesity and $360,000 to address high rates of chlamydia. It deletes funding for the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority, with language saying other state agencies have taken the lead in trying to commercialize Alaska gas. The authority was established by a voter initiative in 2002.

“ANGDA’s purpose has been served and the Authority can now appropriately be terminated as recommended by Legislative Audit so as not to duplicate state activities,” the amendment, from Reps. Thomas and Anna Fairclough, stated.

The Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, currently is leading the effort to advance an in-state natural gas pipeline.

The bill also includes language aimed at restricting state funding for abortions. Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said the language is unenforceable.


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