JUNEAU -- A budget cut can cost a town its radio station, can cost a woman a life of violence, can cost the state an educated work force.
On Saturday, the spreadsheets for the 2001 state operating budget had life stories and criticisms attached to them during what's become an annual marathon of public testimony before the House Finance Committee.
The most persistent testimony against proposed cuts referred to public radio, the University of Alaska, K-12 education, and domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse programs.
The budget under consideration by the committee would cut close to $24 million of general funds from the $2.1 billion general fund budget for the current 2000 fiscal year. Some budget items in the 2001 budget proposal aren't complete yet and decisions on funding for some things, such as municipal aid programs, won't be made until later in the budget-building process. When federal and other funds are added to the nearly $2.1 billion in general fund spending being considered, the budget tops $4.5 billion, or $25 million more than last year.
The 1.1 percent general fund reduction to state departments includes a $335,000 cut to the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Pam Nelson, of Kenai, said she's put her life back together thanks to
the women's shelter in town. The cut, she said, will mean other lives
will remain shattered.
"The abuse I experienced was horrible and life threatening," Nelson
said. "I almost died. I have to tell you, cutting domestic violence
spending will leave women in terrible situations."
The Republican majority in the Legislature has promised to cut $30
million of general funds for 2001. The operating budget before the House
Finance Committee Saturday is about $100 million removed from the
spending plan offered by Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles before the start
of the legislative session.
Rep. Eldon Mulder, co-chair of the committee, said some of the
proposed cuts won't be included in the final budget, which won't be
approved until near the end of the session. The Anchorage Republican
said Saturday's testimony, with a diverse set of Alaskans testifying
over a wide range of programs, speaks to the difficulty of putting a
"When you hear the impassioned pleas from Alaskans, it does have an
impact on you," Mulder said. "You try to balance the needs of all
Alaskans and fund vital public services."
Educators from across the state bemoaned the nearly $19 million
reduction in spending for K-12 education. The proposed budget does fully
fund the education funding formula set in law, which is based on the
number of students. The reduction comes on the heels of declining school
Higher education is also struggling for funds. The University of Alaska
gets the same $172 million of general funds it did last year. However,
Mark Hamilton, the university's president, has asked for $16.9 million
more, which the subcommittee overseeing his budget agrees should be
Michael Queen, of Anchorage, said he can't work as a firefighter anymore
due to injury. He testified that he went to the University of Alaska
Anchorage to get a jump on a new career. He said it was obvious more
money is needed there.
"I was appalled," he said. "We have a third rate university. A third
"It's an investment, it's not an expenditure."
Proposed cuts of $330,000 to public radio's $2.6 million budget from
last year, and an effective $76,000 cut to the Alaska State Council on
the Arts spurred many to testify.
Steve Hanlin, with KBRW in Barrow, said the cut to public radio with
have a "devastating, domino-like effect" on public radio across the
"Several stations will go off the air in places that are underserved or
unserved," Hanlin said.
From Bethel, Chris Bragg said cuts that could lead to the end of a music
program in Fairbanks and to arts programs across the state aren't on her
list. She works for the regional health organization for the Yukon and
Kuskokwim deltas where per capita income levels are as low as they get.
"In the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, many people are barely making it," she
said. "In the delta, we're not talking about music and art, though
those things are nice."
Bragg said state budget cuts -- such as those to alcohol and drug abuse
programs -- are undermining the promotion of job development and of the
ability for the Bush to provide healthy workers.
Listening to the testimony on television, Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, an
Anchorage Democrat and House Minority Leader, said budget cuts aren't
the answer to the state's fiscal problem. The Legislature, he said, has
got to come up with a way to raise more money.
"I've heard the people of Alaska very clearly," he said. "Stop
cutting programs in ways that hurt people and start raising revenues to
address the budget shortfall."
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