It's time to make education state's No. 1 priority; SB 35 would do that

Update From Juneau

Posted: Monday, March 08, 2004

How important is education to you? that's the question that the Senate majority asked their minority members in Senate Bill 35 Appropriations: K-12, University and CBRF.

Unfortunately, on Friday, their answer was that it is not important enough to use their Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund vote.

That's the bottom like to this education funding debate the use of the Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund, or CBRF.

The Legislature can use the CBRF as a fund source, but only when three-fourth of the Legislature House and Senate agree. The result historically has been that the minority uses its vote as a trade for capital projects for their members' election districts. It's expensive, pork barrel politics at work.

This practice is not a secret, even a major Alaska newspaper column reporter:

"So to gain the school funding the Democrats would have to toss out their bargaining chips and have little chance of winning concessions such as public projects for their districts."

This year, the Senate decided to step aside from that annual, last-minute, expensive draw. We asked for the minority's CBRF vote for an increase in funding education right now.

We're bringing this up right now because we know the school districts are working on their budgets. We want to avoid having hundreds of pink slips sent out to teachers. We want stability in our schools.

The increase totals some $88 million for education funding throughout Alaska and specifically provides an increase of $5.7 million to the Kenai Peninsula, which effectively allows for an increase in the local contribution of $1.3 million.

The increase would make the base allocation per student $4,576 an increase of $407 over last year, keeping up with inflation. The increase also includes funds to cover shortfalls in the retirement system and $5.8 million for similar costs for the University of Alaska.

The minority is mad, and I understand that. We've asked them to identify whether they really do in fact support education. We've asked them to support it over the projects they generally bargain for at the end of the session.

But it's time to identify the priorities. Education is my priority, and it is the priority of the Senate Majority.

Sen. Tom Wagoner is a Republican from Kenai.

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