House advances capital budget with $10 million for drug addiction treatment

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, makes an objection during House Finance Committee budget discussion during the 2017 session. (Photo by Alaska House Republicans)

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Juneau-area providers wouldn’t be eligible for these grants because the area was not included in the 1115 waiver. We were looking at the wrong part of the waiver. Juneau-area providers are, in fact, eligible for those grants. 

With the operating budget passed and the end of the special session a few days away, the House Finance Committee made its changes to the capital budget this morning and sent it to a vote on the House floor.

The changes rolled out this morning include $10 million in matching grants for the construction of new addiction treatment centers statewide. It also introduced cuts to deferred maintenance spending and intent language intended to hold the administration more accountable for its spending.

The bill also calls for a three-quarter vote to make a $159 million withdrawal from the $2 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund as well as a so-called “reverse sweep” that would keep a handful of state savings accounts, such as the Power Cost Equalization Fund, in place.

It will require 30 votes in the House, giving the minority Republicans leverage over the legislation.

The bill is set to arrive on the House floor today, where it could be amended and potentially voted on.

Addiction treatment

Early in the special session, the House Finance Committee made it clear that substance abuse treatment would be a priority for the chamber following the passage of a sweeping rollback to the state’s criminal justice reform efforts.

With an expected increase of more than $40 million to cover the anticipated increases to the Alaska’s prison population, House Finance Committee co-chair Rep. Tammie Wilson said she wants to address the underlying cause of much of the crime in Alaska: Drugs.

The $10 million in matching grants would be intended to open additional treatment beds throughout the state.

“There pretty much is not a part of the state that’s not affected by not having enough treatment beds,” she said. “Whether we’re talking about corrections or people who are not part of that system.”

She said the costs to operate the new treatment facilities would be up to the facilities themselves.

There’s currently an application into the federal government that would allow more substance abuse treatment services to be covered by Medicaid. The application identifies nine regions of the state that have shortages of health professionals, and the $10 million in grants would be limited to those areas.

The ACTUAL list of regions (see correction above) is as follows:

  • Region 1 – Anchorage Municipality (Anchorage)
  • Region 2 – Fairbanks North Star Borough (Fairbanks)
  • Region 3 – Northern and Interior Region (Fairbanks and Utqiagvik)
  • Region 4 – Kenai Peninsula Borough (Soldotna and Homer)
  • Region 5 – MatSu Borough (Wasilla)
  • Region 6 – Western Region (Kotzebue, Nome, and Bethel)
  • Region 7 – Northern Southeast Region (Juneau and Sitka)
  • Region 8 – Southern Southeast Region (Ketchikan)
  • Region 9 – Gulf Coast/Aleutian Region (Anchorage, Dillingham, and Kodiak)

Other stuff

The committee made some reductions to deferred maintenance and shifted other funds around.

The committee cut $16 million from the statewide deferred maintenance line that was contained in the Office of the Governor, leaving a total of $31.7 million for the spend. It also requires the governor to come up with a prioritized list of maintenance projects by the end of this calendar year.

Wilson said it’s been difficult to get a handle on how deferred maintenance money is spent under any administration.

“This intent language is so next year we’re not guessing where the money is going,” she said. “Right now, we’ve never got a report of where last year’s money went. We need more accountability in this Legislature.”

The University of Alaska’s deferred maintenance program was cut from $10 million to $7.5 million. It corresponds with a $2.5 million increase for the earthquake monitoring network.

The budget also completely eliminated funding for the construction of the South Denali Visitor’s Center. The governor had proposed $2.5 million of state funding for the new center with the remainder largely coming from cruise ship companies.

The committee also included intent language directing the Department of Environmental Conservation to “collect data on as many per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances as possible, even if that data is not being presently analyzed, to build a baseline of data that will be necessary for understanding the amount of PFAS contamination in soil and water across the state, to estimate the cost of clean up and to develop a long-term plan of action.”

The action follows the state’s loosening of water pollution standards surrounding PFAS chemicals, which was done at the direction of Gov. Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock.

“We know there’s been some uproar over the change of what’s dangerous,” Wilson said. “So, what we’re asking is DEC does more analysis on what the harm could be to our drinking water throughout the state.”

The language comes along with $9.42 million in funding.

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