Senate Finance rolls out proposal meant to spur talks

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Sunday, May 31, 2015 11:57pm
  • News

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Senate Finance Committee on Sunday proposed a version of the budget similar to what lawmakers passed in late April as a way to force negotiations between the House and Senate on a spending plan.

The House early Saturday passed what was seen as a compromise between that chamber’s majority and minority. But senators balked at some of the terms aimed at garnering sufficient minority support to authorize a draw from savings to help balance the budget, including honoring of cost-of-living increases in negotiated union contracts at a time when the state faces multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices and state positions are being cut.

The House plan also was incomplete, still needing language to be added to authorize the draw from the constitutional budget reserve to cover costs for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The Senate was scheduled to meet Sunday afternoon to consider the Senate Finance proposal.

This comes on the eve of when notices are scheduled to be sent to thousands of state employees warning of potential temporary layoffs if a fully funded budget is not passed by July 1. Legislative leaders had said they hoped to avoid the notices being sent if possible to spare additional stress from being put on workers, though Senate Finance co-chair Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, also has said that he regarded that as a soft deadline.

Alaska has billions of dollars in reserves that could be used to fund the budget. But a dispute over how much to spend, and what to spend money on, has complicated tapping into the constitutional budget reserve, which calls for a three-quarter vote in each the House and Senate. And tapping into other pots of money is politically tricky.

During Sunday’s meeting, held in Anchorage, Kelly called the panel’s proposal part of a strategy to get the budget into a conference committee where House and Senate negotiators can try to come to terms. To reach a conference committee, the House would have to reject the Senate plan.

The inability of lawmakers to reach agreement on a budget sent the Legislature, which had been scheduled to adjourn April 19, into overtime. In late April, lawmakers passed a partially funded budget after the House could not secure the 30 votes called for to access the constitutional budget reserve to cover costs. The Democratic-led minority opposed cuts to education funding contained in that budget, along with the rejection of union pay increases, among other things.

During the ensuing special sessions, the Senate has let the House take the lead on the budget, since that side had the trouble securing the budget reserve vote.

The Senate Finance plan retains from the budget passed in late April the $16.5 million cut to the per-student funding formula. But the committee adopted an amendment to provide $16.1 million in funding outside the formula. That’s half the $32 million that lawmakers last session approved in one-time funds for schools for the coming fiscal year but that lawmakers this year repealed, saying the state’s financial situation had changed.

Committee co-chair Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, said the amendment was intended to provide flexibility in discussions with the House on education funding.

Committee member Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said Senate Finance is approaching this process with a spirit of compromise. But Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, called the committee’s actions “a very troubling turn of events.”

In an interview, Wielechowski said the House proposal seemed to have buy-in on that side. “An olive branch was offered, and they set it on fire,” he said.

More in News

Gary Porter, owner of Bald Mountain Air Service, stands in front of his Twin Otter airplane Friday, Oct. 22. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
City Council passes aircraft flat tax rate

The Homer City Council held a public hearing for Ordinance 21-62 concerning a flat tax on aircrafts.

Amelie Bignell, of Soldotna, drops a treat in the bucket of Hayden Jones, of Soldotna, on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, at a “trunk-or-treat” event at Orca Theatre on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Alaska. Jones was dressed as Vampirina. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
All Halloween all weekend

A sinister performance, pumpkin carving contest, food drive, pet microchip event and multiple trick-or-treats are on the docket.

Bill Elam (center) nominates Brent Hibbert to be president of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Johnson elected assembly president; Hibbert to be vice president

Prior to Tuesday, Johnson, who represents Kasilof, served as the assembly’s vice president.

Homer Senior Citizen Center residents participated in a worldwide Televeda bingo event to set a Guinness world record on Friday, Oct. 22. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Homer senior citizens help break world record

The game was held to fight against social isolation in senior communities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)
State hospitalizations still on the rise

Despite a decrease in cases, the state is still seeing hospitalization surge.

The Seward welcome sign is photographed in July 2021. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Seward vice mayor and council member resigns

The council accept the resignation of Tony Baclaan during its Monday night meeting.

Ben Mohr watches Kenai River Junior Classic participants head out to fish on the Kenai River in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
Mohr resigns as director of KRSA

He has been the executive director of KRSA for nearly three years.

Heather and Hunter Phillips walk through the Kenai Community Library Haunted Hunt with their mom Kumi Phillips on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Scary reads

Spooky literary characters come to life at Kenai library haunted house.

Most Read