A proposal to fund Power Cost Equalization is just two votes away from failing on the Senate floor, and it hasn't even got there yet.
Rep. Alan Austerman, a Kodiak Republican, is championing a measure that would come close to paying the entire $15.7 million-per-year price tag for the rural electricity subsidy program. The present version of the proposal calls for a $100 million draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. That requires at least 15 yes votes in the Senate - certainly no more than five no votes.
The vote in the Senate Finance Committee to move the proposal forward was 5-4. Austerman said the math didn't look good.
``I'd say it's going to be real tough,'' Austerman said. ``There are only two more nos (to go). It's kind of difficult to go to the Senate floor with that.''
Sen. Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican and member of the Finance Committee, said the proposal was unacceptable.
Under the plan, money from the sale of the Four Dam Pool hydroelectric projects, about $73 million, would be put in an endowment account along with the $100 million from the budget reserve and a few million more from other sources. Interest on the money in that account would then pay for the Power Cost Equalization program into the foreseeable future.
Donley said education, public safety and a host of other important state funding programs don't get funded through endowment accounts. Power Cost Equalization, he said, doesn't deserve such special treatment.
Sen. Al Adams, a Kotzebue Democrat on the Finance Committee, said the plan was a good one that would keep the electricity program out of the annual budget battle at the Legislature, and perhaps begin healing the political rift between urban and rural Alaska.
``This solves,'' Adams said, ``a long-term solution for Power Cost Equalization.''
Before it was moved out of the committee, the proposal was amended. Among the changes was the removal of an automatic funding mechanism, and the addition of a requirement of legislative approval for any subsequent sale of the hydroelectric projects.
Sen. John Torgerson, a Kasilof Republican and co-chairman of the Finance Committee, said he voted to keep the Constitutional Budget Reserve in the proposal to give all 20 senators a chance to review the measure.
``That's an issue that should be resolved by the full Senate,'' he said.
A vote could come as early as today.
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