House to vote on spending cap

Percent-of-market-value plan also up for a vote

Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Constitutional amendments to limit state spending and change the way Alaska Permanent Fund distributions are calculated will come up for a vote this week in the House.

Gov. Frank Murkowski has urged lawmakers to approve the measures as steps toward solving the state's long-term fiscal gap.

House leaders say they're bringing the proposals up for a vote, but there's no guarantee they'll pass.

The House leadership often requires members to show a "chit sheet" indicating a bill has enough votes to pass before it's allowed to come to the floor. The chit sheet has names of lawmakers who've said they'll support a bill.

But Rules Committee Chairman Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, said he's not requiring that in this case.

"These are such central core issues that that debate should take place one way or the other," Rokeberg said. "Frankly, we don't know whether they're going to pass or not."

As constitutional amendments, both measures require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature before they can go on to voters in November. That means 27 votes in the House and 14 in the Senate.

The House Republican majority has 28 members, but Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he does not believe there will be enough GOP votes to pass the measures without help from some minority Democrats.

Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said it's premature to say whether minority members will vote for the resolutions because he does not know what form they will take after amendments are offered on the floor.

But in their current form, the amendments do not meet the Democrats' requirement that a fiscal plan be fair and comprehensive and raise enough money to fill the state's structural budget deficit, Berkowitz said.

"The spending cap does nothing, doesn't raise a dime," Berkowitz said.

One of the constitutional amendments, House Joint Resolution 26, would make a change in the permanent fund, allowing no more than 5 percent of its market value to be withdrawn each year.

The constitutional amendment does not specify what that money would be used for, but a bill accompanying it says the money could be split 50-50 between dividends and education.

Representatives are expected to debate several possible changes on the House floor. Some want to guarantee a dividend in the constitution, others want to require that some of the spending go to education.

The other constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 9, would put a cap on future state spending. It would put in place a complicated formula that, in general, lets spending increase by no more than 75 percent of the rise in population and inflation or the rise in personal income.

Exceptions would be made for several types of state spending. Also, a two-thirds majority of the Legislature could override the cap by 2 percent and a three-fourths majority could exceed the limit by 4 percent.

The measures will come to the House floor Wednesday, Rokeberg said.



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