Budget includes increase in funding for entitlement programs

Posted: Friday, March 12, 2010

During House debate on the $8.1 billion state budget, representatives also focused on funding for high-demand job and other program areas proposed by University of Alaska leaders. Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said Gov. Sean Parnell hadn't included the roughly $11 million requested in his budget proposal, and Minority Whip David Guttenberg offered a floor amendment that would have provided a portion of that.

It was defeated, largely along party lines, after House Finance Committee co-chairman Mike Hawker explained efforts to move the university system away from the "cherry-picking" approach to funding programs that have existed for years - in which those with a stronger lobby can hold greater sway - to a cost-share-type system.

Absent was the rancor that's overshadowed past spending debates. Finance committee members said there was a deliberate attempt to work together for as bipartisan a bill as possible.

It includes $4.3 billion in general fund spending for state agencies, up from about $4.1 billion for the current fiscal year. Growth is seen surrounding entitlement programs, such as Medicaid and education, as well as with fuel and utility costs. There's growth, too, in areas including the governor's office, attributed in large part to the cost of running statewide elections this year, and public safety.

Many lawmakers have embraced Parnell's goal of cracking down on domestic violence; the House bill includes money for prevention and outreach programs.

Hawker said there's the recognition "that we will be facing some very difficult times in the future as we look at our declining revenue base."

Oil has helped fuel Alaska's economy, and projections call for a continued decline in North Slope production. He said the budget meets the state's needs while showing "we will live within our means."



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