House readies for testimony on budget

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2000

The spreadsheets are starting to pile up in the state House as subcommittees finish up initial work on departmental budgets.

By next week, the full House Finance Committee will be ready to take statewide testimony on Alaska's operating budget for 2001, which begins July 1. Republican lawmakers, looking to cut some $30 million of general fund spending, have started picking which programs will feel the pinch.

So far, only a couple of subcommittees have finished up their work. One of them, combing through the Department of Administration's budget, has told Alaska's public radio stations to expect a $330,000 cut next year.

Bob Poe, commissioner of the Department of Administration, said that after years of reductions just about any cut will have an impact.

``Well, you know the short answer is that every cut hurts these days,'' Poe said. ``They all have a real impact.''

About $1.8 million of general

fund spending has been cut from Poe's 2000 budget, which included $163 million - about 1.1 percent.

Poe, and other department heads, has run into another problem stemming from a decision by legislative budget writers to throw out Gov. Tony Knowles' 2001 budget request. Rather than using the governor's budget as a starting point, the GOP-led majority is using the approved 2000 budget as a base line.

Because of that, items that didn't show up in the 2000 budget are falling through the cracks, Poe said. He gave two examples, including some $200,000 for supporting state accounting and another $130,000 for Workplace Alaska, a program Poe said has ``revolutionized'' Alaska's hiring system.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican and co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said Knowles can bring up any budget items not included in the 2000 budget.

``If there were new programs in the governor's budget, I'm not surprised they are not in ours,'' Mulder said. He continued to say that if the administration doesn't let him know about problem budget items, there's not much he can do about it.

Annalee McConnell, Knowles' budget director, said she told the House Finance Committee that throwing out the governor's 2001 budget proposal would cause problems. There are technical changes - to formulas and funding sources - every year. By throwing out Knowles' budget, there's been quite a bit of confusion thrown into the budget process, McConnell said.

``A lot of the technical work really is cumbersome,'' she said. ``All that work, basically, gets undone.''

Bill Legere, general manager at KTOO-FM and TV, said the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission will likely discuss the potential $330,000, 13 percent cut to public radio grants at a Monday meeting.

That a budget subcommittee took aim at radio didn't surprise Legere.

``When the subcommittee takes a look at meeting their caps, they always seem to look at us,'' he said.

Legere said the commission has taken the position that no more across-the-board cuts will be allowed. If there's less state money, there'll be fewer grants. Fewer grants could lead to fewer public radio stations in Alaska, he said.

Rep. Gary Davis, a Soldotna Republican and chairman of the committee looking at administration, said public radio is a pretty standard item to cut, along with leases and the longevity bonus program.

A close to $17 million general fund reduction to the Department of Education's $734 million 2000 budget actually included more money for some programs, including a $100,000 increase in community schools funding. The reason is lower projected enrollment estimates allowed for a nearly $19 million reduction without a true cut.

DOE's Karen Rehfeld said there have been encouraging moves by the subcommittee overseeing her department's budget. Child-care funding has been bolstered, but money to assure that students pass required tests isn't up to the level Knowles' requested, she said.

Still, there's a lot of time left to go before a final 2001 budget is voted on by the Legislature, Rehfeld said.

``We're going to continue to work through this process,'' she said. ``We've got two months to go. We can't peak too soon.''

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