Senate restores food inspectors program eliminated under House plan

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Senate budget leaders, reacting to a loud public outcry against eliminating the state's food inspectors, have reversed the proposed cut.

Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said a Senate plan restores funding for the program after it was eliminated in the House.

The House approved a fiscal 2003 budget earlier this session that would have cut 19 food inspectors and closed offices in Kodiak and Nome.

It was part of an overall effort to hold the line on state spending amid debate over how to close a growing state budget deficit.

The Department of Revenue estimates the state will have a budget shortfall of $826.7 million by July that will grow to $963.4 million next fiscal year.

Leman said testimony over the budget cut showed that the public doesn't want the program to be cut.

''We've been taking a number of messages and calls from people around the state concerned about food safety and sanitation, in particular student lunch programs and senior programs for food,'' Leman said.

House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bill Williams, R-Saxman, proposed eliminating the Department of Environmental Conservation food safety and sanitation program to save $218,000 in general fund spending.

The food safety program is also funded from another $1.2 million in fees from facilities it oversees.

It would have eliminated inspections of restaurants, grocery stores and other food service businesses statewide. Anchorage has its own inspection program and would not have been affected by the cuts.

But the cuts also imperiled about $22 million in federal aid because it eliminated food inspections of school cafeterias, Head Start day care centers and senior meal programs.

''People were pretty outraged,'' said Janice Adair, director of the DEC Division of Environmental Health.

The Department of Environmental Conservation -- which moniters air and water quality and regulates Alaska's oil and seafood industry -- has lost more than half of its state funding in recent years, Adair said.

Republican efforts to cut the department's budget further without angering the public illustrates how deep those cuts have been, Adair said.

''Either it's going to impact public health, or impact environmental health or impact economic development. Those are their choices when it comes to cutting this department,'' Adair said.

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