Supplemental spending package headed for the House

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2006

A fast-track supplemental spending bill is headed for the Alaska House - about $25 million leaner than when it was first introduced by Gov. Frank Murkowski.

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The Senate cast a final 15-3 vote Thursday on the $97.9 million spending package. Most of that - $55.4 million - comes from the state's general fund with the federal government kicking in about $40 million.

The bill includes $10.1 million to replace the White Mountain Middle and High School, which was destroyed by fire this winter, and $12.8 million for the Alaska Marine Highway System to cover increased fuel costs and consumption.

Also included is $3.4 million for the Department of Corrections to pay for inmate health care and $4.1 million for disaster relief to repair damage from flooding on the Kenai Peninsula and storms on the Bering Sea and in Southeast Alaska.

The governor's proposed $8.8 million in state money for the federal low-income energy assistance program and $6.4 million for the small municipality energy assistance program were removed in the Senate Finance Committee.

Efforts by Democrats to restore the cuts on the Senate floor were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said he hoped the Legislature would revisit the question.

"We are the richest and coldest state in America," he said. "We should be able to do a better job."

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, thanked minority Democrats for casting enough votes to gain the necessary two-thirds vote to pass the appropriation bill. He said the bill was truly on a "fast, fast track" in order to meet the needs of the ferry system.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said he expects the House will stay close to the Senate version.

He said he believes the supplemental bill is not the right vehicle for heating assistance and other options may be discussed in the House.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate unanimously approved a bill that would add six Superior Court judges to the court system and raise the pay 31 percent for all state judges, bringing their salaries on par with those of their federal counterparts.

The bill would add two new judges in Palmer, two in Anchorage and one each in Kenai and Fairbanks.

The new judges and pay raises would cost the state an additional $5.4 million a year.

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