Amendment requires that budget be balanced

Critics of the bipartisan-sponsored measure say it's not as easy as it looks

Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Balancing the state budget is a common goal of legislators; they just can't agree on how to do it.

A Republican and a Democrat presented a proposal Monday to amend the state constitution with a rule that says the Alaska Legislature may not approve general-fund expenditures exceeding anticipated revenues.

The House Ways and Means Committee applauded the efforts of bill sponsors Rep. Norman Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, and House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz of Anchorage. But with the lawmakers passing a variety of budgets and fiscal bills every session, critics of the resolution said such a requirement is not as easy as it looks.

"Things would get jammed up in the end," said Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

As a resolution to change the state constitution, if approved, the public will vote on the measure in the next election.

"If the public has the opportunity to debate and vote on the requirement for a balanced budget, I think it would give the public more confidence in what happens in Juneau," said Berkowitz, the resolution's co-sponsor.

The presenters called the plan a "discipline" measure that would prevent the temptation to overspend.

Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said legislators today do not need a law to make them responsible.

"Bottom line, I don't think anything would change," she said.

Some 44 states have similar constitutional amendments that keep their lawmakers from overspending their budgets.

House Joint Resolution 1 seeks to balance the operating and the capital budgets, which use revenue from the general fund.

For the last decade, the Alaska Legislature has repeatedly dipped into the Constitutional Budget Reserve to pay for additional spending on programs and projects.

Only money from tax settlements on oil drilling and mining is put into the budget reserve. Economists predict the reserve will dry up in a few years if the rate of borrowing continues, hence the calls for a long-term fiscal plan.

"This is a reaction to the public's ignorance that there is no requirement to balance the budget," Rokeberg said.

The Ways and Means Committee will hear from the sponsors again after another draft is revised.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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