House OKs $2.6 billion state budget

Senate committee to review plan before a final vote at the end of the session

Posted: Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Alaska House of Representatives passed a $2.6 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2006, including money set aside for school funding and cuts to public broadcasting.

The operating budget, outlined in a 70-page document, is the largest item of the session. It allocates funding for hundreds of government programs.

The budget plan, which would go into effect July 1, passed the House with a vote of 30-7.

"Some of us felt we needed quite a bit more to take care of the needs for all Alaskans. But there's a limit to the funds we have available," said Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.

The operating budget will be reviewed again by the Senate Finance Committee before a final vote at the end of the Alaska Legislature session.

Democrats said Tuesday they would not offer any amendments to change the budget after learning the Republicans were instructed not to accept any from them.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, told The Associated Press that members in the Republican caucus reached a compromise but were allowed to make their own decisions.

For the first time in Alaska legislative history no amendments were proposed on the floor, but a few Democrats did not go out quietly.

Woodie Salmon, D-Beaver, spoke of hunger and hardships in the Bush as he criticized the House for not including $50,000 for revenue sharing in municipalities, an item that was removed from the budget last year.

"When you live in the Bush and you want steak you better have some good hunting partners," he said.

The budget includes more than $400 million from this year's oil revenue surplus, which will go into a new public education fund to be used next year.

Rep. Les Gara said the government is not giving enough for preschool and university education. Head Start programs are not seeing increases that should follow inflation and the University of Alaska's request for more money was not met, he said.

Though this budget is $270 million higher than last year, House Majority Leader John Coghill said the budget was conservative because he didn't want Alaskans to be living off of high oil prices in a market that is not stable.

Public broadcasting was one of the programs the House cut back. Public TV and radio stations carrying the Legislature broadcast Gavel to Gavel will receive $500,000 annually under the House budget, instead of $724,000.

"If I was to use a character on Sesame Street, I would make Big Bird count 1, 2, 3, 4 ... all the way up to 34, because that's the number (percentage) in cuts public broadcasting will receive this year," Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, said.

The sponsor of that amendment, Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks, said he wanted public broadcasting to wean itself from state funds.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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