Alaska House approves $9.1 billion operating budget, rejects Democratic amendments

The House of Representatives approved a $9.1 billion operating budget Thursday after several hours of debate.

The House’s budget is $53 million less than Republican Gov. Sean Parnell’s recommended budget.

“Mr. Speaker, although this budget is leaner than the current year, we still have invested wisely in our priority areas of education, transportation and natural resources,” said Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, the finance committee co-chairman.

The proposal, which must be passed by the Senate, reduces general fund spending by about 13 percent compared to the current year.

Democrats proposed 11 amendments to increase public education funding, restore some substance abuse prevention funding, reduce funding for the Alaska Aerospace Corporation and reduce the salaries of Alaska Gasline Development Corporation executives.

All failed in the Republican-majority House.

“Our focus is always on jobs and education,” Minority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said. “These amendments target proven, cost-effective ways to improve public education at all levels and to help Alaskans get good jobs.”

After the long debate, representatives from both sides praised the collaborative efforts and spoke of future years with concern.

“You’d think we’re miles apart, but really we’re a half a percent apart,” Gara said. “That’s the difference between the amendments we proposed and the budget.”

Several members of the majority caucus said this year is just the beginning of what will be a series of reductions.

“We have a very little bit of money comparatively for capital funds, and we have deficits in the operating budget we have to deal with,” said Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, a finance subcommittee chair. “It’s going to get much more difficult.”

Still, the House did what was necessary given the financial situation the state faces with declining oil production forecasted for the next decade, Austerman said.

“Looking down the road, we must redouble our efforts to do long-term fiscal planning,” he told the body. “We also know that the more we come to grips with that now, and plan now, the better off we will be in the future.”

Budget officials grilled on 10-year plan
House Finance proposes $9.1B operating budget

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