The budget is coming together in the House, the Legislature finally knows who’ll fill its remaining vacancies (even if they’re not being seated immediately), and the Olympics are over with the United States taking gold in men’s curling. This week the Alaska Legislature will reach the halfway mark of the 90-day session.
49 days (including today) to go.
The House version of the operating budget took shape last week with subcommittee closeouts on each different department. These are all changes to the proposed levels put forward in Gov. Bill Walker’s budget. Most departments will see flat funding or increased funding, which is in line with the House Majority Coalition’s general position that cuts have gone too far in recent years. The biggest increase is in the University of Alaska budget, where the House has restored $19 million.
The biggest reductions from the governor’s proposed budget are seen in the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs, a 1.8 percent cut of $310,000 of undesignated general funding, and the Department of Public Safety, a 0.9 percent cut of $1.5 million of UGF. Both would still be increases over the previous year’s spending, but just not as much as Walker requested. (Both subcommittees also happened to be chaired by Rep. Scott Kawasaki).
Whether or not there’s actually a desire by the Legislature as a whole and Gov. Walker to put such increases in funding into law is uncertain and many of these increases could simply amount to end-of-session negotiating positions.
Here’s a quick rundown of what happened with each closeout.
Administration: Adjustment of fund sources, but no additional funding or cuts.
Commerce: No additional funding or cuts. Directs the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to assemble a report on current broadband accessibility and recommendations to update the system.
Corrections: Cuts two research and records positions, reducing the budget by $229,000. The budget also directs the state to utilize halfway houses more often, to prioritize extending electronic monitoring to Bethel and to look into the drivers and potential solutions to the disparity in the incarceration rates of Alaska Natives.
Education: At governor’s request, the subcommittee added one research analyst position to help collect additional information on school performance at a cost of $97,000. Adds $250,000 in receipt authority for the Mt. Edgecumbe High School aquatic center. Restores $105,000 for a grant-in-aid museum program that helps “small museums build and maintain their collections.”
Environmental Conservation: No changes.
Fish and Game: Adds nearly $1 million to fund 11 commercial fisheries management programs in the Southeast, Central, Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim and Westward regions. (As an Interior reporter, I have almost no insight into the actual changes. Check out the committee report for specific information on the changes.)
Governor: No changes. The report notes that one member asked about forcing the governor’s office to take on the costs of special sessions instead of the Legislature’s budget, but no such motion was made.
Labor: No changes.
Law: Adds $81,000 for the technical support for two new criminal prosecutors added in last year’s budget to the Anchorage judicial district. Also adds $187,000 for one attorney in the Consumer Protections unit, which also handles recovery of money from settlements meaning the position “may even pay for itself as a result of increased recoveries.”
Military and Veterans’ Affairs: Cuts $219,000 from governor’s budget to expand the Alaska State Defense Force. Cuts $100,000 in undesignated general fund money for Veterans’ Services because of higher-than-expected federal funding for the program. Directs the department and Alaska Aerospace Corporation to come up with a plan to “realize a return from the state’s investment in the Alaska Aerospace Corporations and the associated state assets.”
Natural Resources: Restores $107,000 of UGF for Northern Region permitting position, cuts the compensatory mitigation program in half down to $100,000 of UGF, increases funding for Alaska Geospatial Council by $100,000 of UGF to continue access to statewide satellite imagery, increase Mental Health Trust land office budget by $326,000 with Mental Health Trust Authority funding, adds grants administrator to take greater advantage of federal Pittman-Robertson wildlife funds at a cost of $84,000 funded with motor vehicle rental taxes and Pittman-Robertson funds.
Public safety: Cuts spending on highway patrol software and prisoner transportation to meet actual expenditures, reducing UGF spending by $500,000. Cuts governor’s proposed increase for trooper travel by $773,000 leaving an increase of $641,000 of UGF for troopers and $585,000 of UGF for village public safety officers. Directs rural firefighter training to stay in Sitka. Cuts Alaska Wing Civil Air Patrol by a third, reducing its UGF funding by $453,000. Reduces departments request for six new data entry positions to three, which amounts to an increase of $297,000 of UGF from governor’s budget.
Revenue: Adds $140,000 of Mental Health Trust Authority funds to fund Mental Health Trust program officer. Rearranges Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation budget in the text of the budget bill.
Transportation:Transfers operation of the Adak airport from the capital budget to the operating budget, increasing the operating budget by $690,000 in UGF.
University of Alaska: A $19 million increase in UGF, making it the biggest change of any budget. Total UGF funding for the university would reach $336 million after the change, up from a low of $316 million.
Judiciary: Deletes excess receipt authority. Some committee members discussed directing the court system to take its half day any time other than Friday afternoons, but members more familiar with the court system said it was best to leave the decision to the courts.
Legislature: Cuts Legislative Finance Division by $25,000 UGF, cuts House Special Committee on Arctic Policy, Economic Development and Tourism by $10,000 UGF, annual inflation increase for leases of $47,600 UGF and cuts House operating budget by $25,000 UGF.
The budget recommendations put forward by the House Finance subcommittees are not always adopted into the updated budget put forward by the House Finance Committee. It’s also far from a guaranteed finish either. The House Finance Committee will start its marathon public testimony sessions later this week and take amendments after that. Then it’ll head to the House floor for another round of amendments before heading over to the House.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan will give his annual address to the Alaska Legislature today at 11 a.m.
What we’re reading
It’ll be nearly a month that House District 38 has gone without representation by the time Tiffany Zulkosky is sworn into the Alaska Legislature, but two dedicated staff have kept things running for the community. Read: Former state Rep. Zach Fansler resigned amid scandal. His aides are still quietly carrying on. Via Anchorage Daily News.
Republicans down in House District 31 aren’t letting up on their campaign against Homer Rep. Paul Seaton. Seaton’s firing back. “Really, the situation wasn’t that we walked away from the Republicans,” Seaton said. “It was the Republicans who walked away from any fiscal responsibility.” Read: GOP to Seaton: Hit the road, Paul via Homer News.