On the second floor of the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, the House of Representatives began its slow slog through its budget proposal.
One floor above them, Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared his impatience with the pace of the House’s progress. Dunleavy, speaking to media members in his conference room about the budget process and his recent roadshow, said the House Finance Committee disappointed him with its relatively small proposed cuts.
“Some would say it’s a step in the right direction, but that’s like taking one step and you’ve got a hundred yards to go to get a touchdown,” Dunleavy said. “Surely they’re pointed toward the goal line, but it’s far short of what we need.”
The House Finance Committee all but ignored Dunleavy’s cuts-heavy budget proposal, starting its process instead with a budget management plan for this fiscal year put together by former Gov. Bill Walker. The members of the House Finance Committee put forth a budget that includes about $10.2 billion in government spending, compared with Dunleavy’s proposed budget of about $8.8 billion in state spending, according to statistics from the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division.
The committee’s budget would result in a lower Permanent Fund Dividend than the governor’s proposed budget as well, as the House budget would use Permanent Fund money for state government — as is allowed in Senate Bill 26, passed last session. Dunleavy expressed displeasure about that in his press conference and on Twitter.
Representatives gathered on the House floor for about three hours Tuesday to start proposing amendments to the budget. Only one amendment passed. Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, proposed cutting about $33,000 from the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Commission. That office helps connect students with financial aid opportunities and helps families with affording educational resources, according to its website.
As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the House had yet to tackle any major items in the budget proposal, such as the elimination of the school construction debt reimbursement program. Eliminating that program, which helps municipalities afford school construction and renovation projects, was the most widely criticized action the House Finance Committee took in its amendment process.
Local leaders in Anchorage and Juneau were particularly vocal about the elimination of the program. Losing the program could cost the City and Borough of Juneau $7.1 million for next year, according to a CBJ news release.
Most of the time on the floor Tuesday was spent fielding proposed amendments from Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman. Eastman proposed nine amendments about everything from union contracts to sex education to the Alaska Court System’s website. None of the amendments passed.
Dunleavy spoke at length Tuesday morning about how he hopes the House and eventually the Senate will pay attention to his proposed crime bills and constitutional amendments. The amendments are focused on protecting the PFD, requiring that a new tax be put in front of voters and establishing a spending cap.
He said he wasn’t happy that the House began with a prior governor’s budget instead of his proposal, and said the House Finance Committee’s proposal is “an incomplete fix,” and used Bill Murray as an example of what he thinks can happen if the Legislature doesn’t do something drastic this session in regard to cutting the budget.
“In other words, we want to get rid of this Groundhog Day concept of the budget,” Dunleavy said. “We do the same thing every year, we have the same arguments, the same discussions and we get a budget for one year and then we stumble to the next year.”
Dunleavy, who met with Senate leaders Tuesday, said he hopes that side of the Legislature will be more friendly to his proposals.
“We’re hoping that the Senate can get more in line with the idea of large reductions and a permanent fiscal plan through constitutional amendments,” Dunleavy said.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.