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Lawmakers complain about lack of budget info

Posted: July 26, 2013 - 12:06am

FAIRBANKS — Some state lawmakers are expressing frustration with a lack of information on how across-the-board federal budget cuts will affect health and social service programs in Alaska.

During a hearing Wednesday in Fairbanks, legislators complained the state’s deputy Health and Social Services commissioner, Ree Sailors, provided vague information and no written handouts of her presentation.

The hearing came on the third day of meetings by a House Finance subcommittee trying to get a better handle on the department’s $2.6 billion budget, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported .

Legislators calmed down after Legislative Finance Division Director David Teal said there is a lot the departments still don’t know about the impact of the budget cuts, known as the sequester.

Sailors estimated Alaska would receive $4 million less in federal money but said many of the impacts remained unclear since the cuts haven’t been completed.

The series of meetings were punctuated with tension and frustration.

At one point, Republican Rep. Mark Neuman of Big Lake threatened to end the meeting early, and Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, said the department appeared to be withholding information. Austerman said it was frustrating to try to take notes.

“You refuse to write it down, that’s very frustrating and my gut response right now is to cut the damn budget,” he said.

The comment came before Sailors could spell out the known impacts of the federal budget cuts on her department’s programs. She said many of the effects are uncertain and can change because the federal government hasn’t said yet where the cuts will fall.

“They do not feel compelled to give us timely information,” she said. “We constantly work to keep these moving objects in balance, but we often won’t know what we’ll receive for the fiscal year until we’re a quarter into it. They don’t have any sense of urgency.”

What the department has been able to glean, she said, is there will be estimated reductions of $328,000 to Behavioral Health Services, $1.6 million to Public Assistance, $1.2 million to public health, $402,000 to the Office of Children’s Services and $366,000 to senior and disability services.

A decision has not been made on whether the Parnell administration will ask for state money to cover any cuts.

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