Supplemental budget easily passes House

Immediate rural power and child care assistance included

Posted: Sunday, March 05, 2000

Checks for child care and rural electricity won't stop if the Senate approves a supplemental budget bill the House approved Friday.

The measure, containing funding for state programs in immediate fiscal distress, passed the state House unanimously. There was little debate about the ``fast track'' measure, which authorizes spending both House budget writers and Gov. Tony Knowles agree is needed.

``I think we've addressed the most pressing needs,'' said Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican and co-chairman of the House Finance Committee. He said this year the priorities outlined by Knowles line up with his.

The proposal aims an $8 million dividend from the quasi-public Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to pay for a program that keeps electricity bills in rural Alaska reasonable. Another funding source expected to cover the Power Cost Equalization program has apparently fallen through, said Mulder.

``Today there is no money in the PCE account,'' he said.

Also getting money, $1.5 million, is a state program that helps pay child care costs for 4,700 children in Alaska. Unless the measure stalls in the state Senate, those currently getting checks via the program will continue to do so for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

``If the supplemental is as well received in the Senate as in the House, nobody should lose eligibility,'' said Karen Rehfeld, with the Department of Education. She said she is happy to see that request filled and relieved the bill also includes $2.1 million for bussing kids to school, which has cost the state more than expected.

After the unanimous vote on passing the bill, another followed approving the transfer of $1.4 million from the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve to cover the cost of Alaska's Longevity Bonus program.

``There wasn't anything bad in it,'' said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat. ``Fairness is a fundamental requirement of any budget, and this passed that threshold.''

He noted that the bill was so solid it attracted the votes of the four-member conservative GOP minority.

That group advocates steep budget cuts.

Though he voted for the measure, Rep. Jerry Sanders, an Anchorage Republican and conservative minority member, criticized the annual use of supplemental spending measures, saying it tends to add confusion to an already confusing pile of numbers.

``It appears to be deception sometimes,'' he said.

The bill spends $9.6 million in general funds for the 2000 fiscal year. When federal and other funds, such as the AIDEA dividend are included, the measure authorizes $26 million for 2000 and another $7.1 million for state costs held over from the 1999 fiscal year.

The 2000 budget allowed for about $15 million worth of supplemental general fund spending. Supplemental appropriations Knowles requested that aren't in the supplemental spending bill approved Friday will be addressed by the House Finance Committee at a slower pace, Mulder said.

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