Senate Finance plan spends more on schools, less on health

Posted: Sunday, April 01, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The public can weigh in Saturday and Monday on the Senate Finance Committee's proposed state spending plan for next year -- a plan that so far provides more money for schools, but $8.1 million less overall than the operating budget passed by the House.

The House earlier this month approved a $2.24 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The House proposed spending $72.6 million more than the current year's budget but $60 million less than Gov. Tony Knowles wanted.

Senate subcommittees turned in their versions of department budgets Friday. The full committee takes testimony from around the state by teleconference starting at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The Senate budget at this point puts about $1.5 million more into pupil transportation than the House budget does.

''If they don't get this money, they have to take it out of the classrooms,'' said Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Dave Donley, R-Anchorage. ''Our goal is to, as much as possible, put new money into education.''

Donley expects the full committee to match a $9.3 million increase proposed by the House for the University of Alaska. That's less than the $18.4 million increase the university is seeking.

The Senate Finance spending plan provides less than the House budget in other areas.

The Department of Health and Social Services would get about $3.5 million less, said Office of Management and Budget Director Annalee McConnell. That includes a $1.5 million cut in Medicaid, a medical program for the poor.

The Department of Corrections would receive about $700,000 less that the House proposed, McConnell said.

Corrections Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, said the cuts give managers ''the latitude and incentive to reduce waste and improve efficiency.''

That frees up money to spend on schools and other programs where people have not broken the law but need some help, Ward said.

McConnell said prisons and halfway houses have already improved efficiency and reduced per inmate costs.

''Unfortunately, we don't get to reduce the number of prisoners we handle,'' McConnell said.

McConnell said that since some subcommittees' budgets didn't come out until Friday morning, her office had not had time to fully analyze the impacts.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said he believes many programs are short-funded in the proposed budget, but it's better than the past five years when the Republican-led Legislature was working on its five-year plan to reduce general fund spending by $250 million.

''I think it's made a considerable difference not having the five-year plan in front of us, and it seems as though many of the members are looking at the programs and what services are being provided and not looking at, 'Hey, we have to cut 30 million dollars this year,''' Hoffman said.

Still, Hoffman said, more money is needed for education, village public safety officers, Native nonprofit health corporations, drug and alcohol treatment and other programs.

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