As legislators returned to Juneau in January we were faced with the most difficult budget situation in nearly a decade. Revenue shortfalls and increased need for services created a difficult climate and tough decisions still need to be made.
Tightening a budget is never easy. This year the Legislature not only had to reduce the budget, but also had to take security issues into consideration.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attack added some expensive items to the state budget. The federal government has mandated many extra security measures, with good reason, for our military, transportation, public safety and health and social services departments.
For the protection of our citizens and infrastructure we must remember that no amount of wealth or preparation will insure the state security in every circumstance.
The Special Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs has been addressing House Bill 324 (Homeland Security) since Jan. 16. I am committee chair. My staff has done extensive research to help determine the parts of the bill practical and necessary to insure the safety of the people in the state of Alaska. Some of the requests just did not make economic sense. In good conscience, being a fiscal conservative, I could not give the administration a free hand to spend, spend and spend. Public safety, roads and health issues must be considered first before appropriating funds for frivolous ideas.
I cannot justify spending $100 million on security throughout the state since the administration doesn't address areas even handedly. There is no provision to protect the refineries on the North Road. The committee is now drafting the final Committee Substitute for House Bill 324.
State Department administrators promised they expected the federal government and international airport funds to be used for over $50 million of the Homeland Security funding requests. It is our plan to approve the federally funded portion of the bill.
Keeping all of this in mind, every legislator must also determine where best to fund other state programs. Our children are entitled to a quality education. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is the best in the state and we are fortunate to have educators working to maintain quality while squeezing the most out of every dollar.
Programs for Alaska children be it foster care, or Denali Kid Care, must be priority funded. Along those lines, I am sending every senior citizen health care information in a couple of weeks, which will assist with prescription services.
As I become aware of these programs we will be sending information to the appropriate affected people. Once again I will have staff working on alternate funding sources for services between May and December.
I appreciate your input when it comes to the budget. I read every letter and e-mail that comes to my office. I try to answer every call, and no one regardless of the problem is ever turned away.
As always, if you have any problems please feel free to contact my office at 1-800-469-3779.
Mike Chenault is a first-term Republican who represents Kenai and Nikiski.
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