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Budget proration bill set to go to the Senate floor

Posted: Wednesday, April 03, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Senate is poised to take up a bill that makes automatic cuts in some social service programs when funding isn't available.

Senate Bill 182 would reduce the amount of benefits paid to Alaskans over a 12-month period when the Legislature does not fully fund certain formula program.

''What it does is it officially means they can short fund and the administration catches the flak for cutting back on some of the formulas,'' said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau.

The bill affects the state's Longevity Bonus Program, state medical assistance, Adult Public Assistance, foster care and Alaska Temporary Assistance Program.

The legislation would require program directors to reduce benefits when the Legislature directs such cuts in budget bills.

Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, sponsored the measure. Donley did not return telephone calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

But he said in a sponsor's statement that the measure is intended to inject fiscal certainty into some formula-driven programs.

''This legislation will encourage greater accuracy and accountability in state budgeting and also encourage accountability on the part of program directors for the efficient management of their programs,'' Donley said in the sponsor's statement.

Under current law, administrators who oversee affected programs can ask for supplemental spending when they run short of funding. The bill would require administrators to reduce benefits when the funding is short.

The bill is opposed by several social service providers who say it caps spending on some programs without any regard for the actual demand for the services.

Arctic Alliance For People, a group of 74 social service providers in the Fairbanks area, took out a half-page advertisement in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on Tuesday urging local lawmakers to vote against the bill.

''The actual recipients are already borderline poverty and any reduction in benefits would put them in jeopardy of just not making it,'' said Mike Donaldson, president of the alliance.

The alliance urged Republican Sens. Gene Therriault, Gary Wilken, Pete Kelly and Democrat Sen. Georgianna Lincoln to oppose the measure.

Therriault said he supports the amended version of the bill expected to go to the Senate floor on Wednesday since it requires the Legislature to specify when benefits should be prorated. He said it still gives the public an opportunity to speak out against proposed cuts.

''They are going to know upfront,'' Therriault said.

The bill exempts loan programs, subsidies for hard-to-place foslter children, retirement programs and programs that are already prorated.



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