State operating budget ready for Senate vote

Lawmakers make last-minute additions to $8.92 billion plan

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2007

JUNEAU - The Senate Finance Committee added money back to the operating budget for wastewater discharge permits, tourism and independent living grants in a final session before sending the document to the full body for a vote.

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The bill proposes to spend $3.43 billion in general fund money, shaving about $22.5 million and 31 positions off the House version of the budget.

The overall budget is $8.92 billion, of which $5.5 billion is provided by the federal government or program receipts and fees.

Co-Chairman Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said the Senate stepped up the pace on budget deliberations this year in anticipation of having to complete its work in a 90-day session next year.

Voters approved shortening the session by one month in an initiative last fall.

Hoffman said lawmakers also wanted to clear the plate for work on Gov. Sarah Palin's gas line legislation, called the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, or AGIA.

"(We) gave the Senate some time left in the session to concentrate on the AGIA bill because it is an important piece of legislation and it is the financial future of the state of Alaska," Hoffman said.

Among the additions to the operating budget approved this week:

• Reinstatement of $1.5 million for the state to take control from the federal government of administering wastewater discharge permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. The cost would be split between the state general fund and industry permits.

• $100,000 in grants to Alaska's Centers for Independent Living to handle a more than 100 percent increase in the number of disabled and senior Alaskans served, and $50,000 for interpreter services for the deaf and hard of hearing.

• $3.5 million to the Alaska Tourism Industry Association for tourism marketing.

• $500,000 for the continued operations of detox centers in Fairbanks and Anchorage.

• $212,000 to maintain state job centers in Tok and Glennallen.

The committee eliminated a $48 million appropriation for revenue sharing and $10.5 million for school improvement grants.

The Senate plans to address education and assistance to communities in separate legislation. Lawmakers say the debate will include efforts to resolve the problem the state, municipalities and school districts face paying for rising retirement costs.

Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, reminded lawmakers that oil production is on the decline, oil prices are volatile and the next potential boom, a natural gas pipeline, is at least 10 years off.

He said lawmakers worked to control growth in the budget in light of the state's fiscal uncertainty.

"Unless we take these actions early, we will have to make substantial cuts and have look at other sources of revenues increases, sales tax or income or other items," Stedman said.

The budget is expected to be before the full Senate next week. A conference committee would resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.

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