House Adds, Subtracts In Amending Budget

Alaska Beacon
    The Alaska House of Representatives has voted to provide state funding for school meals, young-child reading education, seafood marketing and tourism marketing.
    Members of the House are considering almost 140 proposed changes to the $6 billion operating budget, but through Wednesday at 5 p.m. had accepted just a handful of changes to the bulky document.
    The budget covers services for the 12 months beginning July 1, and the House is expected to finish its draft by Friday, sending it to the Senate for further consideration.
    Senate leaders said on Wednesday that they are worried that the Legislature’s spending plan — operating budget, capital budget and other costs — may cost more than the amount of money available to lawmakers this year.
    That may result in later cuts to the operating budget, including the proposed $2,200 per-person Permanent Fund dividend, or the capital budget under consideration in the Senate.
    Late Tuesday, House lawmakers voted 39-1 to shift $479,500 from the Department of Corrections to the Department of Education and Early Development to cover the cost of free and discount meals served by local school districts to eligible students.
    The amendment was proposed by Rep. Jennie Armstrong, D-Anchorage, but received bipartisan support.
    Another amendment gives public schools $8.9 million in bonus funding equivalent to $180 per student from kindergarten through third grade, plus another $100 for each eligible student in a school with a high number of children from households with low incomes.
    That amendment, from Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, is identical to a provision in a Republican-backed education bill that advanced to the House Finance Committee this week.
    The chamber passed Story’s amendment 21-19 after five members of the House majority caucus joined the 16 members of the predominantly Democratic House minority caucus in support.
    On Wednesday, the House voted to approve $5 million in additional funding for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and $5 million for statewide tourism marketing.
    The proposals, which the House passed as a single combined amendment on a 26-14 vote, were half the size of identical amendments that failed on Tuesday.
    Later Wednesday, the House voted 21-19 in favor of a $1.27 million boost to the budget of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities in order to pay for improved snow-plowing in Southcentral Alaska. The increase was proposed by Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, in response to problems within Anchorage over the winter.
    Lawmakers also accepted one budget cut, from Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake. That cut eliminates six vacant positions from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
    Speaking in favor of the cut, which the House passed 22-18, he said he believes the department needs to reduce its number of vacant positions by filling them or eliminating the position control numbers that are listed for each job from the budget.
    “A clear message will go to the department of labor: They need to either fill these 154 positions, or they need to return the PCNs,” he said.
    Amendment debate was scheduled to continue late Wednesday and into Thursday if needed.

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