UA, PCE funding advance

House approves increase for university, endowment fund for rural power assistance program

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

Two big hurdles separating out-of-town state House members from their homes were cleared Saturday.

Bills that would bump up funding for the University of Alaska and establish a long-term funding source for a rural electricity subsidy were approved back-to-back.

Both measures have uncertain futures in the Senate, where some lawmakers have said they spend too much money. But both issues, university funding and Power Cost Equalization, are in the end-of-session mix of bills as the Legislature seeks to leave Juneau early.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, said House Republicans and Democrats had rekindled their working relationship over the two bills.

``They wanted to be sure that relationship would continue,'' he said.

Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage Democrat and House minority leader, said the pieces of the legislative puzzle were beginning to fit together.

``What we have done today is come together,'' he said.

The University of Alaska funding bill counts on a draw of $206 million from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. That $2.6 billion account is usually used to make up for the budget gap - the difference between state revenues and spending.

The bill pays the University of Alaska's general fund base for the 2001 fiscal year, about $172 million. It also allocates $34 million more for the university to use in the next two years.

To allow for the draw from the budget reserve fund, the bill needed a three-quarters vote in the House. The first time the measure went before the body, it missed the needed margin by two votes. This time, Mulder had seven to spare. The House voted 37-1, with Palmer Republican Rep. Scott Ogan the only dissenter.

Two bills that allow for the sale of the Four Dam Pool state hydroelectric projects and for the establishment of a close to $180 million endowment account for the $15.7-million-per-year Power Cost Equalization program passed easily minutes after the university bill.

The annual cost of the program, which keeps rural energy bills reasonable, will almost be met if the measure gets Senate approval.

To get to $180 million, Rep. Alan Austerman, a Kodiak Republican, added a provision to the legislation to allow for a $100 million draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Only four of the 37 House members voted against the draw - Reps. John Coghill and Gene Therriault of North Pole, Norman Rokeberg of Anchorage and Ogan of Palmer, all Republicans.

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