Panels propose cuts to education, public defender agency

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Saturday, March 28, 2015 10:34pm
  • News

JUNEAU, Alaska) — Alaska’s top public defender said Friday that there will be delays in criminal trials and appeals if a proposed $1.2 million cut to his agency goes forward. A Senate subcommittee on Thursday proposed the cut to the public defender’s agency, calling it commensurate to the percentage cut to Department of Law’s criminal division.

But Public Defender Quinlan Steiner said his agency has costs prosecutors do not, such as having to pay for investigators, and a caseload that historically has outpaced its budget growth.

When it comes to appeals, it takes about a year before a client is assigned an attorney and another four to six months for a brief to be prepared, he said. The situation is such that the court of appeals has instituted new deadlines that the agency runs the risk of missing — and being fined over — if the proposed cut goes through, he said.

The subcommittee, which handled the Department of Administration’s budget, also proposed a $425,000 cut to the Office of Public Advocacy, which director Rick Allen says would limit the agency’s ability to hire contract help for public guardians and guardians representing the best interests of abused and neglected children already dealing with huge caseloads. The panel also proposed the elimination of general fund spending for public broadcasting.

A separate subcommittee on Friday proposed deeper cuts to the state education department than the House as lawmakers continue to grapple with a projected multibillion-dollar state budget deficit.

But the Senate subcommittee recommendation would provide about $3 million for a regional medical school collaborative involving universities in five states and the University of Washington School of Medicine. The money would come from earnings from a fund established for merit- and needs-based scholarships. The House proposed phasing out Alaska’s participation in the collaborative.

The subcommittee overseeing the department of education also recommended eliminating state support for several early childhood education and reading programs, similar to the House. The cuts to four such programs totaled about $3.6 million. But the Senate subcommittee proposed giving the department $320,000 for use toward those programs, as it saw fit.

Senate subcommittees were working this week to close out their work. Their recommendations will be considered as Senate Finance crafts a version of the operating budget to be voted on by the full Senate.

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