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March 14, 2016
Update on Alaska’s Operating Budget
The Alaska House of Representatives met from 11:00 am last Thursday until just after 3:30 in the morning on Friday to debate amendments to the state operating budget. The House Finance Committee had greatly reduced the budget from the original version proposed by Governor Walker and his Administration.
Reductions in essential services are unavoidable, but they must be made as compassionately as possible to protect vulnerable Alaskans, including destitute senior citizens and abused and neglected children. Even at a bare bones level the state budget is huge, and the minimal assistance we provide to those who are truly helpless is virtually insignificant compared to the astronomical costs of doomed state megaprojects and massive oil revenue giveaways.
We must also protect Alaskan homes and jobs. The simple truth is that to cut the budget too drastically and too quickly risks triggering a devastating recession and real estate crash like Alaska experienced in the 1980s.
Last year the Alaska Legislature cut the budget 9.1% totaling more than $800 million. Recently a draft report from the University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research concluded that for every $100 million cut from the budget, Alaska will lose a total of 1,260 jobs. This is in addition to the hundreds of jobs which have already been lost due to layoffs on the North Slope and elsewhere.
The Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition supports Governor Walker in his stated goals of heading off an economic collapse. The Governor put forward a budget that includes a responsible cut of $100 million. The Governor’s Commissioners and other administration officials have the responsibility of maintaining the everyday operations of the state, and they also have the basic expertise in what is required to keep the roads plowed, our children in school, and dangerous criminals in jail. We should listen to them and not cut too harshly.
The Alaska Independent Democrats and I offered a total of 31 amendments intended to restore much of the Governor’s proposed budget, and we further sought out opportunities to halt irresponsible and even harmful spending wherever we could find it. Our proposals would have restored critical assistance to many vulnerable Alaskans and would still have resulted in $183 million in savings over the Governor’s budget.
Key Proposed Amendments to the Operating Budget:
None of our amendments were accepted. The Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition did not have enough votes to pass any of these measures on our own, and the House Majority Caucus members are required to vote in lockstep against any of our proposals, regardless of how wisely humane they are or how much money they may save the state.
We offered the amendments nonetheless, although we had little hope of any of them passing. We explained and defended these amendments long into the night and into the early hours of the morning. We did so despite the hopelessness of the situation because we are the only voice many regular Alaskans have, and it is our duty to speak out on their behalf.
How can we stand by and say nothing while money is wasted in a vain effort to deny Alaskans medical care, while victims of domestic violence and sexual assault lose assistance, or while senior citizens who built our state are repaid with poverty? We cannot.
I’m here for you, so please keep in touch on matters important to you and your family!
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