Senate approves supplemental budget with lobbying funds

Posted: Friday, March 14, 2003

A $71.8 million supplemental spending bill to fund natural disaster relief, as well as pay for lobbying Congress to open the arctic refuge to oil exploration, was approved Thursday by the Senate.

The spending bill includes $19 million to pay for the past fire season and another $10.7 million for earthquake, flooding and storm damages.

Also included in the bill was $1.3 million to fund lobbying efforts in Congress to approve oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The House had approved a $69 million spending plan earlier in the session. The House and Senate versions rejected millions in spending requests by Gov. Frank Murkowski.

The Legislature did not include about $4 million in Medicaid funding requested by the governor, and it didn't include budget shortfalls in the state Department of Corrections, the public defender's office or transportation.

Despite the spending requests that went unfunded, the Murkowski administration will ask the House to quickly sign off on the changes made in the Senate, a spokesman said.

"Our main interest is the ANWR funding. We'd like to get it ASAP," said John Manly, the governor's press secretary.

Debate over opening ANWR to oil exploration is nearing a critical point in Congress. Senate Republicans say they are one vote short of winning approval.

Opening the refuge was a major agenda item for Murkowski when he was in the U.S. Senate. The measure passed the U.S. House in the last Congress but was stopped in the Senate.

Drilling supporters have said if the Senate acts, they are confident the GOP-controlled House will go along with the Senate measure.

The bill approved by the state Senate gives $1.1 million to the lobbying group Arctic Power for its lobbying efforts. It also gives $100,000 to the village of Kaktovik and another $100,000 to the governor's office.

Manly said it is critical that ANWR lobbying funds move to the governor's desk for approval soon. The House must still approve changes in the Senate version of the bill.

"We're asking for the House to concur on it and we think we will get that agreement," Manly said.

The governor's office has not fully reviewed the supplemental spending plan approved on Thursday, Manly said. But other requests that were cut may be pursued in later legislation, he said.

Senate Democrats attempted to amend the bill on Wednesday in an effort to force Murkowski, who is a Republican, to live with budget cuts the Legislature had approved last year.

The GOP-controlled Legislature this session had sought to reverse some budget cuts legislators imposed last year under Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.

Sen. Gretchen Guess, an Anchorage Democrat, offered an amendment to delete funding to several departments that were cut last session. It also added more than $800,000 for the state's subsidized adoption program.

The Senate rejected the amendment on a party-line vote of 12-7. Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat, was absent.

The Senate approved the supplemental spending bill by a vote of 18-1, with Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat, casting the only "no" vote.

The measure is House Bill 100.

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