Republicans turn down Democrats' attempts to boost budget

Posted: Sunday, April 08, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Senate Republicans on Friday turned back more than a dozen attempts by Democrats to boost state spending on education, law enforcement, health care and social services in the coming fiscal year.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the $2.24 billion general fund budget Monday.

Democrats tried to pump up spending by about $35 million, and suggested paying for it by hiking the alcohol tax 10 cents a drink.

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, proposed about a $10 million increase for education. She wanted more money for Head Start, small school curriculum, help for schools with low test scores and the University of Alaska.

Davis said legislators have talked for years about accountability for schools, parents, teachers, students and others in education.

''I say it's time for us also, as legislators, to be accountable,'' Davis said.

But Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Dave Donley said the majority's budget proposal would increase spending on education, including $6.1 million in grants for textbooks, vocational education and nurses.

''This budget reflects a major, major commitment to education in this state,'' said Donley, R-Anchorage.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he appreciated what he called ''small increments'' in added spending.

''It's a dramatic departure from the last decade,'' Elton said. ''But it doesn't begin to get us where we need to be.''

Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, said the increases suggested by the Democrats are popular ones, but he objected to putting the burden on those who drink alcohol.

''Isn't it all Alaskans that benefit from these causes,'' Taylor said.

Democrats also sought more money for public health, rural economic development, the ferry system and alcohol treatment.

Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, asked for money for more village public safety officers, saying 86 villages have no law enforcement presence.

Although Republicans mostly voted as a bloc, Sen. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, voted with the Democrats to boost spending on public safety. Sens. Drue Pearce, R-Anchorage, and John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, voted with the Democrats to restore funding to the Kotzebue Technical Center. None of the amendments passed.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats made any reference during the session to a change the Finance Committee made Thursday night that would kill the entire Department of Health and Social Services budget if a judge overrules budget language banning the use of state funds for most abortions.

Elton said Democrats plan to research the legal ramifications of the issue over the weekend and may offer amendments Monday.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for $72.6 million more spending than the current year's budget, but about $60 million less than Gov. Tony Knowles proposed.

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