While “don’t touch the dividend” seems to be a popular sentiment across Alaska, lawmakers in Juneau are chained to a different directive: don’t touch the Constitutional Budget Reserve — at least not yet.
A week ago, the state House of Representatives passed a bill to fund education in Alaska. However, the measure called for a draw of $1.2 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, and the measure to allocate the funding failed to get the supermajority required to pass.
Given the state’s budget deficit is projected to be north of $2.5 billion, and the Constitutional Budget Reserve is expected to have just $2.2 billion come July 1, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that legislators would use up the last of the state’s savings without the rest of the budget picture in clearer focus.
Don’t get us wrong, we think the idea of settling education funding early in the legislative session is a good thing. School districts need to have their budget done in early April — which has been months before the state budget has been passed in recent years. Knowing what funding is coming their way — rather than guessing — puts school districts in a much better situation.
But the Legislature has to stop allocating more money than is has revenue available, which means staying away from the savings accounts and instead addressing the state’s cash flow. That means that the Senate and House majorities will need to come to an agreement on how to use some of the earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for state services. And it means that education funding — one of the largest pieces of the state budget — will be part of that discussion.
Members of the House majority suggested the House minority is playing politics with school funding. You know what? They’re right. But, again, they shouldn’t be surprised. The current House majority spent enough time as the minority to know just how much leverage a Constitutional Budget Reserve vote can provide. If the House majority wants to get school funding allocated — or any other funding, for that matter — they will need to play some politics themselves, and figure out how to make a deal.