Senate committee to continue work on budget

JUNEAU — The Senate Finance Committee is expected to continue work this week on a proposed $9.9-billion state operating budget.


The panel had been scheduled to consider amendments Monday afternoon, after taking public testimony on the bill last week, but that meeting was canceled. Amendments are now planned for Tuesday.

Among those who testified before the committee was first lady Sandy Parnell, who on Saturday asked that more than $800,000 be included for a sex trafficking investigative unit. A subcommittee had recommended denying the governor’s funding request, saying three new troopers were not needed for the unit because there hadn’t been a single investigation in the last year. The governor also had requested money to train and equip the new troopers.

Sandy Parnell, according to a written copy of her remarks, said troopers’ lack of experience and training in that area results in a failure to recognize signs of trafficking. The first lady, a supporter of administration efforts to crack down on trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault, said the Anchorage Police Department and FBI have personnel trained and dedicated to the effort and that the state shouldn’t leave its share of the job up to them.

Legislative leaders have said they want to rein in spending amid concerns about declining oil production. There is a recognition, too, that if an oil tax-cut meant to boost investment and oil production passes, it will mean an immediate hit to state revenues — up to $875 million, potentially, under the latest version of the bill.

The draft under consideration is about $41 million more than the House passed but about $63 million less than Gov. Sean Parnell proposed, according to the Legislative Finance Division.

The operating budget authorized for this year was about $9.8 billion.

The budget proposal under consideration by the committee also includes language stating that money appropriated to the Alaska State Troopers may not be used to help federal officials enforce the Marine Mammal Protection Act as it relates to sea otters in southeast Alaska. Bills have been introduced proposing the state pay $100 for each sea otter lawfully killed under the federal act. Supporters see the otters as a growing threat to shellfish beds in the region, but a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman has said the bills would be unenforceable under the federal law.