JUNEAU — House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Tuesday to a provision that fully funds the per-student funding formula for the coming year, as work continued to try to reach an overall budget deal.
The House, in the version of the budget it passed this special session, agreed to fully fund the per-student funding formula known as the base-student allocation, while the Senate proposed a cut of $16.5 million. The conference committee went with the House number.
Still-unresolved items before the committee included whether to honor cost-of-living increases in negotiated union contracts. Funding for the pay increases has been a sticking point in these budget talks. Some legislators say the state should honor its commitments, while others question whether pay increases should be given when the state faces multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices and state jobs are being cut.
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said in a phone interview that he’s hopeful a resolution can be reached soon. The new fiscal year starts July 1, and notices have been sent to thousands of state workers warning of layoffs if a fully funded budget isn’t passed by then. The current 30-day special session is scheduled to end late next week.
The conference committee chairman, Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, said a lot of work has happened behind the scenes to try to find a compromise, and that work continues. It remained his hope that the budget can be wrapped up as soon as possible, Neuman said. The state has never had a fiscal situation like this, and it takes time to work through that, he said.
In other legislative news, the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday plans to hear HB 44. The bill, as it passed the House, required schools to have programs and policies related to sexual assault awareness and prevention and dating violence. It was rewritten last month in the Senate Education Committee to make such programs optional. Provisions from other school-related bills were added onto the measure.