Senate adds $27 million in spending to state budget

Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2002

Senate Republicans are boosting funds for education by about $18 million in the 2003 state budget.

About $27 million for education, public safety, alcohol treatment, tobacco cessation, courts and the corrections system has been added to the House-passed budget without increasing the general fund, said Finance Co-Chairman Dave Donley of Anchorage.

A variety of fund shifts and one-time revenue sources, including use of an endowment for international trade programs, allowed senators to allocate more money without adding to the projected $963 million fiscal gap, Donley said this morning. In fact, they're reducing the fiscal gap somewhat, he said.

Republican budget-writers in both the House and Senate decided on no general fund increase from this year's total of about $2.3 billion, rejecting about $200 million in increases proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.

With formula-driven programs driving some costs up, the House made about $100 million in cuts to keep the budget level, some of them unspecified. Salary increases mandated by labor contracts also were unfunded but were expected to be absorbed.

The Senate Finance Committee is restoring some of the cuts, notably in food safety inspections and in management of state parks, while increasing funding for the University of Alaska by $8 million and for K-12 education by $10 million. Meanwhile, some "small" reductions will be made in the departments of labor and commerce, and some Medicaid payments will be based on "a lower-case scenario," Donley said.

The Senate Finance Committee meets today to take up "bifurcation" of the budget, which would prevent the outgoing Knowles administration from spending more than half a year's funds before leaving office in December.

Annalee McConnell, budget director for Knowles, sent a memo to legislators this week outlining problems with bifurcation, noting, among many points, that sand and gravel aren't produced in the winter and bulk fuel for rural areas must be delivered before freeze-up. Donley said he hasn't seen the memo.

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