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Senate adds to university funds

Millions restored for longevity bonuses in $2.3 billion operating budget OK'd by Senate

Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The state Senate gave preliminary approval on Monday to a $2.3 billion operating budget that adds $9.5 million for university funding and restores $44.8 million for the Alaska Longevity Bonus Program.

State budget

How the budget has changed

What's left in:

• Longevity Bonus.

• Alyeska Central School.

• $159 per student increase.

• School construction debt reimbursement at 70 percent.

• $9.5 million increase in university funding.

What's been cut:

• Alaska Science and Technology Foundation.

• Alyeska Central School summer program.

• $167,000 for adult basic education.

The budget also cuts $4.2 million for student transportation and $167,000 for adult basic education but restores funding for Alyeska Central School in Juneau - less $1.2 million for ACS's summer school program.

The Senate budget is about $131 million more than Gov. Frank Murkowski's budget target of $2.169 billion.

Senate Democrats offered 15 amendments to the budget bill Monday, all of which were defeated by the Republican majority.

The Senate is set to pass the budget today, according to Senate President Gene Therriault, a North Pole Republican.

Once the budget is passed, members of the House and Senate will meet in a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate budget plans.

The House version of the budget also is about $2.3 billion, but did not include funding for the Longevity Bonus or the $9.5 million increase in university funding.

Regardless of the final plan agreed on by the Legislature, Murkowski has authority to veto any particular request in the budget.

Murkowski's budget proposal would draw $393 million from the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve, an account used in recent years to balance the budget.

It is uncertain how much will be needed from the CBR to reach that target under the Senate's budget, because neither that body nor the House of Representatives has approved any of Murkowski's tax proposals.

Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, offered an omnibus education amendment to the Senate budget bill that failed on a 12-8 party-line vote. The $27.8 million amendment would have taken about a third of the $87 million the administration would capture by closing the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation.

The proposal would have added $4.2 million to fund pupil transportation at the 2003 level. It also would have added $22.4 million to the student foundation formula, $500,000 into community schools and $167,000 for adult basic education.

The Senate budget increased the amount spent on each student by $159 for a total of $4,169 per student. Elton's amendment would have added another $111 to the total per student for a total increase of $270 per student.

An amendment offered by Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis would have directed the Legislature to tap the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve if there is not enough money this year to pay dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund.

"There is a real danger this year of there not being a permanent fund dividend to Alaskans," Ellis said. "If this is not adopted ... and there is no Permanent Fund dividend, I do not want to be on record as having cast a vote that would have meant no Permanent Fund dividend."

Republicans argued the Constitutional Budget Reserve was not created to supplement the dividend program and that using the $1.9 billion CBR to pay dividends would cause the state to run out of money sooner.

"I view the current budget as kind of like a runaway train and we know that a certain amount of miles down the track the tracks simply end," said Sen. Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican. "And the governor recognizes that to bridge the gap between now and when we can get economic development that will fill the budget gap we have to make that CBR last."

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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