Juneau legislators react to governor’s proposed budget

Rep. Kerttula, Sen. Egan and Rep. Munoz at a forum during the 2013 legislative session. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld.

Rep. Kerttula, Sen. Egan and Rep. Munoz at a forum during the 2013 legislative session. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld.

Gov. Parnell’s proposed capital budget for next year includes deferred maintenance funds for Juneau’s Dimond Court House, the Pioneer Home and other facilities in need of work, as well as more than $1.7 million for waste water system improvements in Petersburg.  The town is part of Rep. Beth Kerttula’s House district and Sen. Dennis Egan’s Senate district.

And while Juneau legislators say they appreciate the $15 million  for SLAM, Egan notes that a lot more is need to finish the project.  Approximately $37 million more is required to fully fund the third phase of the libraries, archives and museum facility.

“Preserving our territorial and state heritage is vital for all Alaskans,” Egan says.

Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz is on the House Finance Committee. Though the governor has said there is some room for lawmakers to add projects, Munoz expects they will be conservative.

“The good news for Juneau is that there’s significant support for the projects that we value in this community,” Munoz says.

The operating side of the proposed budget, which funds state government programs and services, includes the mine training program at the University of Alaska Southeast, a Munoz priority.

“There’s money in the operating budget for the mining training director position, which now makes it part of the base operating budget,” Munoz explains. “We don’t have to go for a yearly request, and it’s there in the base, which is very positive.”

Due to declining oil revenues, the governor’s operating budget spends $1.3 billion less in state general fund dollars than the current year.

“The overall figure the governor gave us was general fund in the budget in 2013 at $8.06 billion, in ’14 to $6.9 billion, and in ’15 looking at $5 point 6 (billion),” says Kerttula, who is House Democratic Minority Leader.

She says there are always places to reduce the budget, but worries about the impact on education.

“Should we be taking down education funding by not meeting inflation?  That’s a problem,” she says. “The governor said he was willing to talk with us about that and I’m very glad for that. We’ll be taking every step we can to improve, but still that lowering budget tells you we’re not going to be making a lot of progress in areas that we need to be.”

With declining production and lower oil prices, Kerttula says it was clear revenue would be down, but she says Parnell’s reduction in oil taxes makes it worse.

Calling education funding one of his top priorities, Sen. Egan, also a Democrat, says basic education funding needs to increase.  In an email to KTOO, Egan said flat funding for a fourth year is unacceptable.

“Four years in a row?  Something has to happen for our schools,” he says.

Munoz, Egan and Kerttula agree with the governor’s proposal to transfer $3 billion in savings to state retirement trust funds to reduce the liability and bring down annual payments.