Parnell signs operating and capital budgets

The state’s operating and capital budgets for next year have been set, as Governor Parnell yesterday (Monday) vetoed very little from the $12-billion dollar spending plans approved by the legislature last month. Parnell said the plans were sound. Dave Donaldson reports.

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Gov. Sean Parnell. Photo courtesy State of Alaska.

In presenting his work to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, the governor praised lawmakers for agreeing early to stay within spending limits as he had requested. He also pointed to the state’s various savings accounts, saying Alaska is in a very solid cash position.

“Our Permanent Fund ended March with a value of $41.5-billion – the highest month-end closing value in its history. Our state rainy day fund, those budget reserves, have more than $15-billion in them,” Parnell said. “Remember those budget reserves, those rainy day funds, they represent fully one-third of all fifty states’ rainy day funds put together. That is financial strength.”

The largest item of the $66.6-million the governor cut from spending was what he called an “imprudent” appropriation of $50-million to the Judicial Retirement Trust Fund. He said the required payments are already in the bill and paying down the unfunded liability for just one of the state’s retirement systems was not necessary.

Legislators were generally satisfied with what the governor did – and how little he rejected. Anchorage Democrat Hollis French said it showed an excellent working relationship between the governor and the House and Senate. And Anchorage Republican Lesil McGuire said it was important to recognize the two-way communication between legislators and the governor.

Most criticism of the vetoes was a reduction the governor made to increases the legislature approved for Pre-Kindergarten programs. McGuire said those changes reflect a concern about the state’s getting more involved in local education. She says it was not a major dispute – this year’s appropriation was just too high.

“Many of us in the legislature do feel that putting dollars in that area is going to save you money on down the line when it comes to your corrections department, when it comes to your economic development opportunities – things that educating kids at a very young ago seems to pay off for a society,” McGuire said.

But Anchorage Democrat Les Gara was more critical in his reaction. He says the state needs to do better job educating young children.

“One of the ways they estimate future prison beds is the reading level of kids in third grade,” said Gara. “We rank 46th in the nation in third grade reading level. It’s because we have one of the worst pre-K systems in the whole country. Alaska is a pre-K backwater.”

The governor did indicate a readiness to discuss ways to expand learning opportunities, but at a press availability following the speech, he made it very clear that state intervention in parental responsibility does not automatically fall to the schools.

The governor also signed a bill authorizing the public to decide on whether to issue $453-million in general obligation bonds to pay for transportation projects around the state. He also approved a bill making final an overall increase in school funding – but changing the way the money is distributed to local school districts.

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