Majority Republicans in the House considering a fiscal 2004 spending plan turned back efforts to restore millions in education funding during budget debates on Wednesday.
The House rejected a proposal by Rep. Eric Croft, an Anchorage Democrat, to use part of the state's $1.9 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve to provide more money for schools and the University of Alaska.
It would have provided an increase in education spending over two years, and lessened the power of minority Democrats to influence state spending in future years because tapping the reserve requires a three-quarters majority.
House Republicans rejected the idea on a 27-12 vote, but House Finance Co-chairman John Harris of Valdez said the proposal has merit and may surface later in the session.
House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat, said his caucus sought to win about $80 million in budget increases in return for $60 million in cuts. Other cuts could be achieved by trimming the capital budget, Berkowitz said.
House Republicans did accept an amendment to add $12,000 to the Legislative Ethics Committee budget for office expenses, but otherwise kept the spending plan largely as it was approved in committee.
Berkowitz expressed frustration over the Republican caucus position to retain cuts in education spending and other areas of state government.
"I think it's very difficult for a stampeding herd to change directions," Berkowitz said.
The House is poised to approve a $2.3 billion general fund budget that spares few areas of state government from cuts. But it also calls for spending about $50 million more than the budget proposed by Gov. Frank Murkowski.
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.
It also rejects a proposal by Murkowski to eliminate the senior citizen longevity bonus program, which would have saved the state $47.5 million.
Cutting the bonuses drew a firestorm of opposition from seniors. Harris, who chairs the House budget writing committee, said there was no support among those in his caucus for the plan.
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