Supplemental budget bills unveiled by Gov. Knowles

Posted: Wednesday, February 07, 2001

JUNEAU -- Gov. Tony Knowles introduced supplemental budget bills Tuesday that would spend more than $32 million from the state's general fund for dozens of programs ranging from fighting wildfires to subsidizing the Special Olympics during the current fiscal year.

Knowles divided his request for additional funding in the current fiscal year into a brief ''fast-track'' bill and a larger measure with less urgent spending. Together they add up to an additional $32.5 million from the general fund and $83 million from the federal government, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The fast-track measure includes a $500,000 grant to help pay for lodging at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage next month and nearly $2 million to help state agencies such as the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Environmental Conserva-tion prepare for the much hoped-for natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48.

''With an appropriation of $1.96 million in March, we could intensify the overall gas line effort considerably and avoid a full year's delay on the necessary field work,'' Knowles wrote in a transmittal letters to the House and Senate leaders.

The fast track bill also includes $252,200 to offset the extra costs of holding a closed primary for Republican candidates last year after a U.S. Supreme Court decision against the state's traditional blanket primary.

Most of the spending from the general fund is in the ''slow-track'' bill, which includes:

n $9.1 million for a 7 percent increase in Medicaid caseload growth.

n $4.8 million for fire suppression.

n $2.1 million for increased fuel costs to various agencies.

n $1.9 million to cover shortfalls at the Office of Public Advocacy.

n $1.7 million to fully pay leases with the private sector.

n $1.1 million for longevity bonus payments to eligible Alaska seniors.

The general fund spending in the Democratic governor's bills was roughly twice the $16.5 estimate budget writers use each spring for unanticipated and emergency spending. Much of the money will go to shore up programs that Knowles said were short-funded on purpose in the spring.

Majority Republicans in the Legislature used the tactic last year to make the budget appear smaller in the final year of their five-year spending reduction plan.

''The Legislature wanted of course to keep the numbers as low as possible in May so everything was done at the low case,'' said Annalee McConnell, budget director.

GOP lawmakers contend they use the lower estimates as a way to encourage the administration to keep costs down.

''It's expensive,'' House Finance Committee Co-Chair Eldon Mulder said of Knowles' proposal. Mulder described the supplemental budget as a yearly struggle between the administration and the Legislature.

''Many of those costs are things the administration wanted but didn't get and now they're coming around for a second swipe at them,'' Mulder said.

The supplemental budget also includes ratification of spending from late in the fiscal year that ended last June, including $4.3 million for fire suppression and $4.3 million for Medicaid.

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