Legislature right back where it started

  • Thursday, May 19, 2016 3:47pm
  • Opinion

It’s deja vu all over again in Juneau.

With the Legislature unable to come to an agreement on a budget measure, Gov. Bill Walker has once again called lawmakers into a special session, this one slated to begin Monday in Juneau. The issues on the agenda are largely the same as the issues lawmakers faced when they opened the session in January — balancing budget cuts with new revenue measures to address a $4 billion budget gap. About the only thing that has changed is that, with oil prices remaining low, the size of the deficit has gotten bigger.

A failure to come to any sort of resolution on Wednesday, the 121st day of the regular session, came on the heels of what can only be described as a step backward on Tuesday, when a conference committee cut a $50 increase to the base student allocation from the state operating budget. The move has sent school districts across the state — which generally have to approve their budgets by early April — into a frenzy as administrators try to figure out cope with an unexpected cut.

When it comes to the Legislature, school administrators certainly know better than to count their allocations before they’re approved. But in the case, school districts have cause to be upset. The increase to the base student allocation was part of an education package approved by the Legislature in 2014, and had been approved by the House and Senate during the current session.

In fact, a conference committee is supposed to be focused on points on contention between the Senate and House; we’re disappointed to see committee members decide to cut something that was already agreed upon.

Speculation is that — once again — education funding is going to be used as leverage against the House Minority caucus as their votes will be needed to authorize a draw on the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Quite frankly, the disdain with which some in the Legislature view their constitutional responsibility to fund education is disheartening. We know that with such an significant budget deficit, there can be no sacred cows. But from significant cuts to the University of Alaska, a decision not to provide capital funds for the Kivalina school, and now this last-minute move to eliminate funding that already had been approved, we’re left wondering just how much value some lawmakers place on the educational system.

We’ve written quite frequently in this space that for schools to thrive — which is what legislators say they want — they need consistent, predictable funding. Pulling the rug out from under them at the last minute doesn’t help anyone achieve their goals.

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