Legislature asks Washington for a break

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2002

The state Legislature is asking Congress to let Alaska and other states spend less money on programs such as welfare and drug and alcohol treatment.

The state House agreed Thursday to go along with the Senate in sending the message to Washington, D.C. Opponents said the request might backfire coming from a state so rich that it sends out money to its residents, through the Alaska Permanent Fund, instead of taxing them.

"I'm embarrassed as a legislator sending this to Washington, D.C.," said Rep. Andrew Halcro, an Anchorage Republican. "I'm sure some of the folks in D.C. are going to get this and say, 'Hey, I have an idea. Can't pay your bills? Stop sending out free money.' "

The Senate Finance Committee sponsored the measure. Finance Co-Chairman Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican, said many states are struggling with budget shortfalls as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The measure asks the U.S. Congress to grant a two-year moratorium on federal requirements that states maintain a certain level of state spending on some programs that are partly federally funded.

For example, the federal government puts $64 million a year into Alaska's welfare program and requires the state to spend $44 million.

Janet Clarke of the state Department of Health and Social Services said Congress required minimum state contributions when it passed welfare reform laws several years ago so states wouldn't chop their welfare budgets in a "race to the bottom."

Halcro and other House members argued that Alaska's problem is not federal requirements, but the Legislature's unwillingness to address the state's budget gap.

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