House ends stalemate, passes state spending plan

  • By Associated Press
  • Saturday, May 30, 2015 9:30pm
  • News

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska House voted early Saturday to pass a state spending plan, after an agreement was reached between the majority and minority in an effort to end a long-running budget impasse.

The proposal would provide $15 million toward causes the Democratic-led minority has cited as important during the budget debate, including restoring funds for early childhood learning programs, the ferry system and University of Alaska system. That money would come from the constitutional budget reserve fund.

The way the bill is written, full funding for the per-student funding formula for the coming fiscal year and honoring cost-of-living increases in union contracts was contingent upon the approval of the $15 million being drawn from the savings account.

A vote authorizing that draw was overwhelmingly approved by the House Saturday morning. But any final deal is contingent upon support from the Senate, and the version of the bill passed by the House doesn’t appear to have the Senate’s support.

“You can pretty much guarantee we’re not going to take whole cloth what they’ve sent us,” said state Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, “We have to do a good job, not just a quick job.”

Gov. Bill Walker on Saturday urged the Senate to agree to the House terms to keep notices from being sent. Notices are scheduled to be sent Monday to state workers warning of potential layoffs if a budget isn’t passed by July 1.

A hotline has been set up and information posted online for state workers regarding the potential partial government shutdown.

The Senate met briefly Saturday morning and referred the bill it to its finance committee, which planned to review it later Saturday.

The House and Senate are scheduled to have floor sessions Sunday afternoon.

The bill as it stands is incomplete, with language needed to authorize a draw from savings to cover costs of government for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Funding for the union contracts additionally is contingent upon Gov. Bill Walker vetoing legislation that rejected cost-of-living increases for non-union state employees.

Failure to reach agreement on the budget helped send the Legislature into overtime last month, with the House falling short of the 30 votes called for to tap the reserve fund to help cover the costs of government. The state faces multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices and needs to dip into savings to help get by.

Democrats held out, pushing for school money, paying the union contracts and Medicaid expansion, among other things.

The House had debated the budget Thursday in fits and starts over many hours before the session was put on hold until Friday.

The House was scheduled to resume discussion early Friday afternoon, but behind-the-scenes talks pushed that back.

The measure that passed the House does not include $32 million in one-time funds outside the per-student funding formula that was approved last session but that lawmakers cut earlier this year, citing the change in the state’s fiscal situation.

Walker first suggested that cut. It also does not include Medicaid expansion.

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