Democrats try to alter university budget bill

Posted: Wednesday, April 12, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Worried that majority Republicans might gain a tactical advantage from a proposal to tap a budget-balancing reserve to fund the University of Alaska, minority Democrats tried unsuccessfully to change the bill Tuesday.

The bill sponsored by the House Finance Committee would tap the state's budget-balancing reserve for $206 million to give the university an increase in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

That money would replace the $172 million earmarked for the university in the budget the House passed last month, and add a $34 million increase to be spread over the next two fiscal years.

Minority Democrats offered a series of amendments Tuesday, then used a procedural tactic to delay a final vote until Wednesday.

''Let's give them a true and honest two-year funding increase,'' said Rep. Eric Croft. Croft, D-Anchorage, dismissed the plan backed by House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder as a confusing shell game.

''It gives the impression, even if innocently done, that we're playing games with the budget.''

Croft proposed an amendment that would shift $195 million of the money from the budget reserve from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal 2002.

Minority Democrats were wary of the plan because tapping the Constitutional Budget Reserve requires a three-quarters majority in both the House and the Senate. Normally, that vote is reserved by the minority as a bargaining chip until the end of the session, when lawmakers tap the reserve to cover the gap between state spending and income.

With a $206 million authorization in hand, the majority could theoretically adjourn without compromising with the Democrats on other issues to muster another three-quarters vote. Croft's amendment, which failed 14-24, would have nullified that possibility by shifting the spending authority to the following year.

''I think the only part the public's confused about is why the minority's having trouble supporting this,'' said Mulder, R-Anchorage, who dismissed the possibility that $206 million would be enough to balance the budget. ''We are still going to need the minority's support to fully fund the shortfall next year.''

Mulder said he expected about $400 million would be required. The Department of Revenue is scheduled to announce its spring revenue forecast on Wednesday.

The university had requested a $16.9 increase in each of the next two years, which adds up to more than $50 million.

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