Juneau residents kicked off two days of public testimony on the state operating budget before the Senate Finance Committee today (Wednesday).
Mayor Bruce Botelho thanked Senators for including $60-million dollars in community revenue sharing in the budget proposal. The program divvies up a portion of Alaska’s oil tax revenue for use by local communities. Botelho says Juneau’s share is largely spent to keep rising energy costs in check.
“Even as we’ve taken steps large and small to deal with it,” Botelho said. “Such as our ground source heat pump systems in our newest facilities, the energy programs that particularly our school district has instituted, our use of LED lighting – all means to try and curb energy consumption – we have seen a 15 percent increase in our electricity costs over the last two fiscal years, and fuel costs in excess of 30 percent over that same period.”
Other testimony focused on education, with teachers and parents urging Senators to increase funding for local school districts through the Base Student Allocation.
School Board Member Andi Story says the Juneau School District is trying to close a $5.8-million dollar budget shortfall, and more than 65 jobs are on the chopping block.
“The board’s going through a painful process of deliberating over cutting nurses, music, art, middle school counselors and others, like many other districts,” Story said. “And these 65 jobs, they affect our community. The Juneau Economic Development Council estimated the job losses will result in a negative impact to Juneau of nearly $11.5-million.”
The Senate already passed a bill to increase the Base Student Allocation over the next three years. The amount each district currently gets per student is $5,680 dollars. The Senate plan would increase that amount by $120 dollars this year, with increases of $130 and $135 dollars in the next two years respectively.
The Senate’s $9.5-billion dollar operating budget is the same size as the version passed by the House earlier this month. But there are significant differences between the two plans in terms of allocations to departments and spending on specific programs. The differences will likely be resolved in a conference committee.
The Finance Committee plans to take public testimony from other communities this afternoon and tomorrow morning. The committee will begin considering amendments to the budget proposal on Friday.