The House is poised to approve a fiscal 2004 spending plan that restores more than $50 million in cuts proposed by Gov. Frank Murkowski. House Republicans met for several hours behind closed doors on Tuesday to hash out an agreement on a plan to send to the Senate.
The measure includes about $20 million more for K-12 schools than first proposed by Murkowski, and a general fund budget for the University of Alaska that provides no increase over the current year's total.
House Republicans were split on whether to increase university spending, said House Majority Leader John Coghill, a North Pole Republican. Murkowski proposed an increase of $10.3 million.
More money for the university would have sparked a call among GOP lawmakers for more in K-12 spending, Coghill said. Ultimately, Republicans agreed to a proposal crafted by the budget-writing House Finance Committee.
A proposed amendment by Rep. David Guttenberg, a Fairbanks Democrat, to add $10.3 million to the university budget was rejected 25-13. The House also rejected by a 27-11 vote an amendment by Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, to increase the school funding formula by $293 per pupil.
Rep Eric Croft, also an Anchorage Democrat, tried to muster support for the university funding increase by reminding Republicans that their conscience, and not their caucus, should sway them. Only two Republicans - Reps. Hugh "Bud" Fate of Fairbanks and Dan Ogg of Kodiak - voted with Democrats on the university increase.
The House also rejected an amendment proposed by Croft to use about $4 million in the Legislature's surplus funds for other purposes. Also rejected were amendments to cut funds from the governor's office and the attorney's general's office.
The House is expected to vote on final passage of the budget today and send it to the Senate.
With the GOP in control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office, the debate this session has centered around making state government live within its means.