State budget bill with $280 million in cuts due for House vote

The House Finance Committee sent its budget proposal to the full House of Representatives on Wednesday. The budget, with some late changes, would cut spending by $280 million. It also spends $225 million in funds left from the current budget.

There were some intense exchanges between committee members before the final vote.

Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, during discussions about the state operating budget shortly before it was passed out of the House Finance Committee, March 9, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)
Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, during discussions about the state operating budget shortly before it was passed out of the House Finance Committee, March 9, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Wasilla Republican Rep. Lynn Gattis questioned why the leftover funds from the current budget only emerged recently.

“Folks in my district are saying, ‘Why in the heck would I trust you to go and tax me or take my Permanent Fund dividend, when you guys are playing these shell games?’” she said.

But Eagle River Republican Rep. Dan Saddler said spending the savings was a legitimate budget strategy.

On Tuesday, the committee added $30 million for an addiction treatment program, and restored $2.7 million for public broadcasting and $1.7 million dollars for the Nome Youth Facility.

But it didn’t vote to restore $25 million for the University of Alaska.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara said the budget shortchanged vulnerable Alaskans. He noted the spending plan cuts all state funding for pre-kindergarten.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, during discussions about the state operating budget shortly before the House Finance Committee passed it on Wednesday. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

“I understand we have to cut waste. But we don’t have to cut the things that make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “That’s where I draw the line. And we crossed that line over and over and over yesterday. I don’t believe we have to cut things that senior citizens rely on. Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars got cut from senior citizen help for people who need emergency housing.”

But Committee Co-Chairman Mark Neuman said that as the state considers cutting Permanent Fund dividends and raising taxes, it must cut spending.

“I’ve had to tell every group, every person that’s walked into my office that has approached me on the street – wherever they talk to me – no. I can tell you, look you straight into the eye that everybody that has walked into my office was told no, we don’t have the money.”

The House is scheduled to discuss the budget — and potentially vote on it — on Thursday. The Senate may vote on its version of the budget on Saturday. Then the two houses will work to resolve the differences.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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