Proposed education cuts running afoul in the House

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2003

House Republicans are split on a plan by Gov. Frank Murkowski to cut millions in spending for Alaska schools.

House Speaker Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican, said many in his majority caucus are opposed to Murkowski's plan to cut $20 million from K-12 grants and funding for local busing.

"I think there is enough importance put on K-12 education that most of the members I am talking to are going to be supportive of keeping it" in the budget, Kott told the Anchorage Daily News.

The House education budget subcommittee is recommending lawmakers reject the proposed cuts in Learning Opportunity Grants and pupil transportation. The governor proposes cutting about $10 million in each category.

The administration argues that pupil transportation cuts could be offset by efficiencies on the local level and that the grants - called Learning Opportunity Grants - are no longer needed.

Those grants were intended to aid schools in preparing for the high school graduation exit exam.

John Manly, the governor's press secretary, said if lawmakers reject the cuts they should find the savings somewhere else.

Lawmakers have suggested several alternatives, but each proposal has its own set of critics.

Rep. Carl Gatto, a Palmer Republican, has proposed as an alternative a $100 head tax on all cruise ship passengers to provide money for both schools and tourism marketing.

Gatto sits on the education subcommittee and said the cuts proposed by the governor would be devastating to school districts.

"(Find) one person in this building who just got re-elected saying 'I want to cut education,"' Gatto said.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Mike Hawker suggested taking money from the University of Alaska budget, for which the governor proposed a $10.3 million increase.

Rep. Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican, has a bill that would reduce the amount of oil revenue put into the Permanent Fund. That could be used to offset cuts to education, he has suggested.

Some conservative lawmakers plan to defend the cuts. House Majority Leader John Coghill of North Pole said other state programs face deep cuts and education, which is a large part of the state budget, should not be insulated.

"The governor wants everybody to feel the belt tightening," Coghill said.

Murkowski also has proposed a $6 million cut to bond debt reimbursement for schools and eliminating the community schools program to save about $500,000. But at the same time, he is proposing funding the state's foundation formula at the same level as this year.

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