Senate prepares to pass operating budget

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2008

The state Senate is getting ready to consider a $10 billion state operating plan that's arrived on the floor about a month earlier than last year.

The proposal, introduced on Friday, uses about $4.2 billion in general funds, $4 billion in other state funds and $1.7 billion in federal funds.

It spends about 11.5 percent more than last year from the state general fund but less on agency programs than Gov. Sarah Palin has proposed.

Senate Finance Committee co-chairman Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to bring the rate of growth to under 10 percent.

"At this rate of change, in seven years the operating account is going to double to $8.4 billion. That is unaffordable and unsustainable," Stedman said. "We need to work collectively to bring that rate of change down even further."

Lawmakers began the legislative session debunking the governor's much-touted 4 percent increase in state spending, which they estimated was closer to 15 percent.

Now they are touting a $208 million decrease from the governor's December spending plan but only a small portion of that reduction is to state government.

The largest piece is the result of the finance committee's removal of a proposal by the governor to deposit $155 million into a state savings account called the Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund. They are instead making a much larger deposit - $3.6 billion - to the same account under a different appropriation bill.

Lawmakers did shave off $15 million from the $75 million Palin proposed putting into revenue sharing next year.

They also eliminated 148 new job positions she requested, "which I believe is substantial and where we need to control the growth of government," said finance co-chairman Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel.

Palin's Budget Director Karen Rehfeld said the administration will ask to have some of those positions restored when the Senate takes up amendments on Monday.

She said they would like to have $2 million put back in for trooper positions and $6 million for attorneys and support staff working on oil and gas litigation in the Department of Law.

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