Governor hikes budget request to $141 million

About $101 million would go to unexpected expenses, such as fire fighting and health care

Posted: Friday, February 11, 2005

The governor is asking lawmakers to approve more than $141 million in supplemental budget requests and funding for new programs, $16 million more than what was earmarked in his original budget proposal.

About $101 million would go toward increased and unexpected costs, such as fighting the state's largest fire season on record, health care expenses and the high price of fuel, said Cheryl Frasca, director of the state Office of Management and Budget.

Another $40 million would go toward new or expanded programs, including preparatory work on a gas pipeline from the North Slope and Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposal to increase substance abuse prevention programs.

Lawmakers also will be asked to ratify $15 million in funding from other sources, such as federal receipts, that did not come through. The money for those programs in health, natural resources and prisons has already been spent, and ratifying them now is simply a book-balancing measure, Frasca said.

The $141.3 million would come from the state's general fund this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The rest of the governor's $294.5 million supplemental budget would come from federal funds and other sources.

Murkowski proposes paying for the supplemental budget request through the state's oil revenue surplus, now estimated at about $466 million.

Murkowski's original budget proposal, which he presented in December, called for about $16 million less in supplemental spending.

"A lot of that is due to the winter storms ... and Medicaid increases," Frasca said.

The winter storm that hit the Arctic village of Kaktovik last month is estimated to cost $2.4 million. Another $4.1 million would go to relief from last year's Bering Sea storm that struck Nome and villages in Western Alaska.

The price tag of fighting last year's wildfires, in which 6.4 million acres burned in Alaska, is another $37 million.

The Department of Health and Social Services is asking for $40 million to cover increases in Medicaid caseloads, prescription costs, senior health costs and other increasing expenses.

The money appropriated to those programs last year will be gone between March and May, according to the budget request.

"Over the last two years, the department has had aggressive cost containment measures on controlling Medicaid costs," Frasca said. "They just were not able to make as much progress as they (planned)."

More than $6.8 million is earmarked for fuel increases for the Alaska Marine Highway System. State Department of Transportation spokesman John Manly said the actual price of fuel was 68 cents a gallon higher than what was budgeted.

The Department of Corrections is requesting an additional $2.3 million to meet the increased cost of housing about 750 Alaska prisoners in Arizona, said spokesman Richard Schmitz.

Other items include $2.6 million in salary and benefits adjustments for state workers; $1.35 million to fix the Fairbanks Correctional Center after an attempted jailbreak last year, and for damages to the state ferry Fairweather; and $1.1 million in court judgments and claims against the state.

Of the new programs, $28 million would go toward costs of preparing for a gas pipeline. Negotiations to build the line are under way, and the money would be mainly for legal costs, analyses and right-of-way permitting.

Another $4.5 million would go to Murkowski's substance abuse prevention initiatives, and $6.5 million for small community grants in the state's energy assistance program.

The governor's supplemental budget request was introduced in three separate legislative bills in both houses: a "fast-track" bill, a regular supplemental bill and a Division of Elections supplemental bill.

The fast-track is for those items that need funding earlier in the session, Frasca said.

Versions of both bills have been referred to the finance committees of the House and Senate.

The Senate passed the $694,900 Elections Division supplemental bill on Wednesday and is awaiting action in the House.

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