Parnell budget limits spending

Targeted increases will go toward previously set statewide goals

Posted: Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gov. Sean Parnell presented a budget for next year that he said would both rein in spending and put money aside for the future.

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Source: Office Of Management And Budget Note: Dollar Amounts In Millions
Source: Office Of Management And Budget Note: Dollar Amounts In Millions

"This year's budget leaves a surplus in savings when we're done, and it's higher than last year's budget," Parnell told the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Monday, where he made the announcement.

Parnell said the $10.5 billion budget was a limited but did include some modest new initiatives, such as taking steps to deal with Alaska's domestic violence and sexual assault problems. Alaska perennially ranks among the worst in the nation.

The budget proposal received quick praise from members of the Juneau legislative delegation.

"It's a fairly conservative budget, up just over two percent over what it was in the previous year," Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau said.

"It's pretty much a hold-the-line budget, but I'm really glad to see the focus on domestic violence, that's something that's been needed," Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said.

The central part of the budget, the state General Fund operating account, increases only 2.3 percent, Parnell said.

Projected strong oil prices will enable the state to put $500 million in savings, while still meeting state needs, Parnell said.

To do that, Parnell said his budget limited growth in the state's operating budget, but expanded the capital budget from his predecessor's bare-bones effort.

Spending on the large, one-time expenditures such as road projects or new buildings that make up the capital budget will increase from $175 million to $309 million, Parnell said, but $85 million of that will leverage $700 million in additional federal spending.

Some of the most dramatic changes in the budget, however, had already been made public in a series of announcements over the last several months: A new emphasis on deferred maintenance and merit-based scholarships for college.

A former co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Parnell said he was well aware of the long-term costs of not maintaining public buildings, ferries, roads and other state-owned infrastructure. He proposed $100 million there.

"I say it's time to get started," he said.

Parnell has been outspoken about domestic violence and sexual assault, which he called an "epidemic" in Alaska.

"That's not who we are as a people, that's not who we will be in the future," Parnell said.

He's proposing money for better investigations, prosecution and incarcerations, and said he wanted to end the epidemic within a decade.

"The question is not what it will cost, the question is what it will cost if we do nothing," he said.

Parnell said his budget would continue the state's focus on renewal and energy efficiency projects, including roads to help develop resources, such as a possible oil and gas field in the Brooks Range foothills.

Maintenance and efficiency projects have an added benefit of mostly going to Alaska contractors because of their smaller size, Parnell said.

"These are not typically projects that will attract big companies from Outside," Parnell said.

Muñoz and Kerttula praised Parnell for including $9.5 million for security and safety upgrades at Juneau's Johnson Youth Center, money that had been requested by former Gov. Sarah Palin but was later cut out by lawmakers.

"I'm really pleased that the governor put it back in," Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said.

Muñoz said some important road projects on Egan Drive and Glacier Highway were funded, along with come city projects such as a Jordan Creek bridge and the Basin Road trestle.

Kerttula said she wished the new state library, museum and archives building had been included, but Parnell acknowledged that there would be additional projects added by the Legislature.

"I think there's room for us to push for some more Southeastern projects," she said.

Parnell also allocated cruise ship head tax money for port improvements, much of which went to Southeast, including $4.5 million for Juneau's cruise ship dock project.

"I'm glad that a lot of cruise ship funds are going to be expended for Juneau, as well as Ketchikan, Sitka and Wrangell," Egan said.

Last year Palin vetoed several cruise ship projects in Ketchikan and Sitka without explanation.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgeyat 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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