House budget plan includes low-income energy assistance

Posted: Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The state House has added more money in a $2.3 billion capital budget to help cushion the state's neediest residents from the financial crunch they're feeling from high oil prices.

But that could spell the end of a proposal to dole out $500 to every Alaskan.

The House Finance Committee put in $10 million as a state match to a federally funded block grant program called LIHEAP, or Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The money is distributed to low-income Alaskans to help pay their heating bills.

Committee co-Chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said he preferred the targeted distribution over a measure that would pay every Alaskan $500 from the Alaska Permanent Fund earnings reserve, estimated to cost about $360 million.

That bill, from Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, stalled in the finance committee last week and is not likely to resurface, Meyer said.

"I think LIHEAP is a better substitute because it goes to the low-income and the people who truly need it," he said.

The capital budget, which pays for construction projects and equipment around the state, was unveiled in the committee on Tuesday.

That version of the budget totals $2.3 billion and includes $835 million in general funds, $746 million in other state funds and $782 million in federal receipts.

It spends $200 million more from the general fund than the Senate version on projects for individual districts, and it is certain to grow even bigger.

The House has not yet added back the projects Gov. Sarah Palin wants, but Meyer said he is meeting with the administration and expects "most of her projects will get funded."

Palin lambasted the Senate last week for what she called an "irresponsible" budget that she said both spent too much money and failed to cover necessary state expenditures, like filling potholes and finishing up work on a communications system for the Alaska State Troopers.

It's also unclear how a separate $220 million transportation bond package approved by the House will fare in the Senate. Senate finance leaders have said they prefer to use cash in a time of high surpluses to pay for road and bridge improvements.

If the bond package fails to pass the Senate, many of those projects could wind up in the capital budget.

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