Gov. Bill Walker signs ‘fast-track’ budget bill to avert shutdown of ferries, Medicaid

House Bill 321 was approved with bipartisan support in House, Senate

From left to right, Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome; Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer; David Teal of the Legislative Finance Division; Gov. Bill Walker; Neil Steininger of the Office of Management and Budget; Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River; and Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel are seen at the signing ceremony for House Bill 321 on Tuesday, March 27, 2018 in the governor’s cabinet room of the Alaska State Capitol. (Drew Cason | Alaska House Majority)

Gov. Bill Walker averted an impending shutdown of the Alaska Marine Highway System and the state’s Medicaid health insurance program on Tuesday by signing a $110.2 million fast-track supplemental appropriations bill.

 

In a ceremony on the third floor of the Alaska State Capitol, Walker affixed his signature to House Bill 321, which sends money to the ferry system, Medicaid, Alaska Department of Corrections, Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation and other state agencies.

Each of those agencies lacked enough money to last out the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

House Bill 321 passed the House and Senate by large, bipartisan margins. The House approved the measure 32-7 on March 12; the Senate followed suit with a 16-1 vote on March 16.

The bill was transmitted to Walker before the end of that latter day.

HB 321 is the second bill signed by Walker this year and the fourth to be passed by both bodies of the Legislature this session.

The sole significant bone of contention in the bill was the issue of Medicaid funding. Several lawmakers in the House and Senate have raised alarm about rising Medicaid expenditures and said they were reluctant to spend more on a program that appears to have no ceiling.

Administration officials pointed out that much of the additional funding request was attributable to two factors: underfunding by the Legislature last year and the ongoing state recession, which has pushed more Alaskans onto Medicaid rolls.

The details of HB 321 were negotiated among the four co-chairs of the House and Senate finance committees. To address the concerns of lawmakers concern about Medicaid costs, the co-chairs reached a compromise. Rather than fund the entire amount requested by the state’s Medicaid program, they agreed to fund the program through mid-May, the point at which the Legislature will reach its constitutional, 121-day limit.

If lawmakers fail to pass a budget by that point, the state Medicaid program could run into further funding difficulties.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.


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