On March 13, the House of Representatives passed out the Operating Budget and Mental Health budget bills (HB 81 and HB 83). The operating budget is conservative and yet responsible in a time when the price of oil threatens to deplete the State’s savings accounts. This budget reflects a will of the majority to continue to fund necessary State services and programs with the hope that the price of oil will rise in the next two years. With the state of the current US economy, keeping Alaska’s economy balanced is extremely important.
Unfortunately, the bill that passed did not include provisions for Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) access. The minority caucus refused to add their votes for a required ¾ vote to pass forward funding of education and fully fund municipal revenue sharing. This is extremely disappointing to me. As Co-Chair of the Operating Budget for the past four years, we set up the Public Education Fund to forward fund education so our school districts would know that their funding was appropriated along with increases and not be put in the position of having to issue “notice of non-retention slips” (pink slips) by March 16 because their funding was unknown. The Education Task Force also set in place funding for three years including increases to the base student allocation, special ed funding and district cost factors. Education funding costs the state over a billion dollars a year and it took us a couple years to get the Education Fund completely funded. This one vote took the State backward about four years and again puts our school districts in the position of uncertain funding.
The minority argues that they put an amendment forward to fund education and revenue sharing out of FY 11 funding which is inappropriate for the FY 10 budget bill. Constituents might ask “Why are they doing this?” They want something for their votes, it’s as simple as that. The budget bill has a long way to go and the House will again have the opportunity to vote on the CBR assuming that the Senate includes the CBR vote on their side. Hopefully they will reconsider their action and do the right thing.
It’s unfortunate that the minority is willing to risk forward funding of schools and revenue sharing funding for their own self interests. The system we had in place worked.
Information regarding the bill that passed out of committee is available on BASIS at
http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/start.asp (HB 81 and 83)
And information regarding the funding reports is available at the Legislative Finance website.