Donley wants simple majority to spend reserve funds

Posted: Tuesday, February 05, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A leading Senate Republican wants a constitutional amendment to close a loophole that he says requires millions in backroom deals to pass a state budget.

Senate Finance Co-Chair Dave Donley said Democrats held out on balancing last year's budget until they received about $150 million in additional spending.

A constitutional amendment proposed by the Senate Finance Committee would make it easier to access the state's savings account to balance the budget without such deals, he said.

Senate Joint Resolution 24 would allow a simple majority vote to spend from Constitutional Budget Reserve as long as the state's general fund did not grow from the previous year.

Republicans have wanted to hold the line on state spending, said Donley, a Republican from Anchorage. ''This is one of the things that is keeping us from doing it effectively,'' he said.

In a sponsor statement for the legislation, Donley said a 1994 Alaska Supreme Court ruling invalidated the intent of the so-called ''triggering mechanism'' that allows the Legislature to easily access the state's budget reserve.

''This has allowed a small minority of legislators to 'blackmail' the majority into increased spending,'' he said in the sponsor statement.

Among the added costs were more than $29 million in school debt reimbursements, $180 million for breast cancer coverage and more than $1 million for facilities in Kotzebue and Bethel, according to a list of projects from Donley.

But Democrats took issue with the accusation that they drove up the cost of passing the state budget.

Berkowitz called it ''smoke and mirrors'' and pointed out that if voters

''If he wants to blame me for getting money for breast cancer assistance, schools or infrastructure, I'll take that credit,'' said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz.

Berkowitz said Democrats sought a ''fair budget'' that maintains state services for projects and people all around the state. ''We use the CBR as a shield, not a sword,'' Berkowitz said.

Donley is engaging in political ''grandstanding'' by pushing the measure, Berkowitz said. If the measure is approved by voters, it would take effect the same year that the state's reserve account is estimated to be empty, Berkowitz said.

''The practical consequence is near nil,'' he said.

The resolution passed in the state Senate last year along a party line vote of 14-6. The House Judiciary Committee heard the bill Monday but took no action.

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