State and local briefly

Posted: Monday, February 28, 2000

Long-range fiscal plan on hold

JUNEAU -The unveiling will have to wait.

A press conference scheduled for today, to ``unveil'' a long-range fiscal plan for Alaska was canceled following a House majority caucus on Saturday.

The cancellation was announced in a news release. In the release, Rep. Gail Phillips, a Homer Republican, said the postponement was due to a ``minor technicality regarding inflation-proofing'' the Alaska Permanent Fund.

The cancellation shouldn't be read as a stillborn birth for the plan, which has the backing of a group of GOP House members, said Rep. Bill Hudson, a Juneau Republican. He said the long-range plan proposal, which includes a variety of elements, was shown for the first time to the Republican-led House majority over the weekend.

``We made our first unveiling to the majority caucus on Saturday,'' Hudson said. ``Given the fact that it's fair to say we had no consensus at that meeting, we felt we should go back.

``We are now going back to the drawing board.''

He said the backers of the proposal, which is aimed at closing the close to $750 million gap between state spending and revenue, were ``disappointed but not daunted'' by the delay.

Another press conference could be scheduled as early as next week, Hudson said.

Labor budget may be spared cuts

JUNEAU - If a bill passes the Legislature, the Department of Labor could survive next year's budget without taking a fiscal hit.

Early today, a House committee decided to give the state's Labor Department about the same amount of money for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, as it received this year.

The committee, a subset of the House Finance Committee, cut close to $1.6 million from department's budget on paper. However, the committee predicated that cut on passage of a workers compensation bill, which would replace the funding eliminated for workers compensation - $1 million - and the state's Occupational Safety and Health program - $500,000.

``Basically, it's a wash for our department,'' said Dwight Perkins, deputy commissioner of the department.

If House Bill 378 or twin legislation in the Senate passes the Legislature, the department will see no real cut this year, he said. HB 378 gets its first committee hearing today.

Under the measure, employers would pay for workers compensation based on the cost of the claims their employees make. Also, self-insured employers, the largest in the state, would begin contributing to the program.

There was some concern that programs would be eliminated if the bill doesn't make it into law this year. Rep. John Cowdery, an Anchorage Republican, said that's not his problem.

``I'm sure you guys will make sure that doesn't occur,'' he said.

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