Minor progress made on state budget crisis, but it’s better than nothing

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building photographed as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

The conference committee on the operating budget met today to close out its second round of department budgets. Its members closed out the budgets for the Department of Law and the Department of Corrections in what was a largely uncontroversial meeting.

The House and Senate majorities reached agreement on small things, like partially funding two Anchorage prosecutors in Anchorage and rejecting funding for one in Bethel. They also decided to fund or keep funding corrections positions related to the implementation of criminal justice reform. These debates only resolve a few hundred thousand dollars, but they’re first steps to having an operating budget.

There’s still no major announcement—or even minor actions—suggesting the House and Senate majorities are closer to resolution. Work like today’s at least makes sure things are ready to go if and when that does happen.

It’ll take about a week to get everything drafted and passed once agreement is reached,  by most accounts. Much of the Senate isn’t even in Juneau right now.

There’s a left in the special session and 22 days before the government shutdown.

Department of Corrections

The committee agreed to take $175,000 of money from Community Resources for Justice to fund a diversion planner. It also decided to keep $546,000 for four IT positions who’re doing data work to see if criminal justice reform is working. These are both boons to folks who supported 2016’s Senate Bill 91.

They were both objected to by the Republican House Minority, which has been more than happy to raise the alarm and blame higher crime rates on the bill. (Those crime rates were on the uptick well before SB 91 was enacted).

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, is the minority member on the conference committee—a role held in previous years by his good sparring buddy Rep. Les Gara—raised the objections. Pruitt’s objections to the majority parties’ agreements were heard and soundly rejected, just like Gara.

He was defeated 5-1 on both measures.

Motion sheets from the June 8 conference committee on the operating budget [PDF]

The conference committee also adopted House intent language directing the department to invest in fighting the disparity of incarceration rates of Alaska Natives. The numbers on this front are pretty alarming. According to the 2015 offender profile, Alaska Natives make up 35.6 percent of the offender population when Alaska Natives only make up about 19 percent of Alaska’s overall population.

Alaska Natives also only make up about 11 percent of those on electronic monitoring, which is less disruptive to life than jail. The conference committee also adopted House intent language that seeks to expand electronic monitoring to Bethel.

Department of Law

There’s fewer changes on this front. Anchorage will get partial funding for two prosecutors. It’s partial because they don’t expect the position to be in place on July 1. Bethel won’t get funding $154,000 for a prosecutor.

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