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House passes operating budget, Senate OKs supplemental funds

Majority OKs first hike in general fund spending in 6 years

Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2001

The Republican-led House of Representatives approved a "status quo" state budget Wednesday, amid protests from Democrats and some Republicans that vital needs were going unmet and that the budgeting process was flawed.

And legislators continued to joust about a long-range fiscal plan to address ongoing budget deficits.

Rep. Andrew Halcro, an Anchorage Republican, called on his colleagues to move swiftly, before next year's election-year politics derail momentum for a fiscal solution.

"It's not just an election year," Halcro said. "It's a gubernatorial election year, with half the people in this building wanting to be governor."

The Republican majority voted for a $34.1 million increase in discretionary general fund spending in 2002, the first such increase in six years. The House has proposed a general fund of $2.24 billion for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Only one Democrat who is not a member of the majority, Sharon Cissna of Anchorage, voted for the budget on the final roll-call, which was 27-10. Cissna said she voted for the budget because she chose to put her faith in statements by Republicans that funding in some areas would be increased later.

On the whole, both sides agreed that the debate was more civil, less protracted and more substantive than in recent years.

A draw of $470 million from the $3 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve will be needed to balance the general fund. That requires a three-fourths vote of the House, or 30 votes, three more than the number of Republicans, and gives the minority some leverage when deals are cut at the end of the session. And Rep. Con Bunde, an Anchorage Republican, cast an apparently symbolic vote against the CBR draw, which fell short on a 25-12 vote. That doesn't stop the bicameral process from going forward, however.

Meanwhile, the Senate approved a "fast-track" supplemental appropriations bill, including $1.75 million to Arctic Power, a lobbying group, for promotion of oil drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and $100,000 to the city of Kaktovik, the only community within ANWR, for the same purpose.

The $28.2 million bill, which includes $5.7 million in general funds, also provides money for the post-Census redistricting effort and compensates the Division of Elections for costs associated with emergency rules for the August 2000 primary election.

The vote was 18-1. Now the House, which passed its version Feb. 16, and the Senate will negotiate differences between them. Another supplemental appropriations bill also must be approved, and the Senate Finance Committee still must finish work on the 2002 operating budget.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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