Senate working to slash $30 million off state budget

Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2000

The Senate's version of a state operating budget for the next fiscal year will be up for public testimony tonight.

The measure, as it looks today, is a lot like the $2.1 billion general fund budget passed by the state House earlier this month. As with that measure, funding levels for some more controversial measures have yet to be addressed. As with the House's measure, the budget cuts more than $25 million from state general fund spending, according to Sen. Sean Parnell, an Anchorage Republican.

``They're similar in that we're both trying to reach $30 million of cuts,'' said Parnell, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. ``We're particularly pleased at being able to reduce spending and still prioritize.''

The GOP priorities, he said, are education, public safety and transportation.

In the Senate version of the operating budget for 2001, municipal aid programs are cut, but by $3.4 million rather than the $17 million widely expected. Power cost equalization, a program that keeps electricity costs in the Bush reasonable, has money next to its name but no source for the funds. Also left for later is funding for contracts worked out between the administration of Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles and state employees' unions.

Those issues, along with any funding increase for the University of Alaska, will be taken up by the full committee, said Parnell.

Some of the budget cuts or denied increases that raised the most public ire in the House's marathon public testimony session - to public radio and domestic violence programs - have been included in the Senate bill. Others, such as university funding, are not.

Education spending for children from kindergarten through high school gets the nearly $640 million the state school funding formula says it should.

That's not enough, said Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat and minority leader of the Senate.

The money saved from lower school enrollment and other factors, which trimmed some $19 million from the school formula, needs to be put back into programs aimed at kids, he said.

As it is now, the Senate budget spends some $97 million less than the one proposed by Knowles.

Ellis said that given all the items left for later, GOP lawmakers are making false claims when they say they're saving $25 million. Especially, he said, when you consider how much more the state's going to cost to run when today's cuts lead to problems down the line.

``Investments in children early on saves money down the road,'' he said. ``At this stage, the Republicans' version of the budget severely shortchanges Alaska's children.'' He listed foster care, early education and child-care programs as lacking adequate funding.

Ellis said Democrats are wondering when power cost equalization, employees' contracts and other yet-to-be-addressed issues will be dealt with.

``We're anxious for them (Republicans) to put their cards on the table and say how they're going to pay for them,'' Ellis said.

The hearing is slated to start at 6 tonight in Room 539 of the Capitol and to last well into the night.

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