Senate backing governor's budget

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2004

JUNEAU State Senate Republicans have allied with Gov. Frank Murkowski in his fiscal 2005 spending plan, dismissing millions in proposed changes by House GOP lawmakers.

The state operating budget would grow to $2.3 billion in general fund spending in the fiscal year that begins July 1, under a bill that is expected to go to the floor today.

''We tried to make the least obtrusive changes that we could,'' said Senate Finance Co-chair Lyda Green, R-Wasilla.

Democrats offered just a few amendments during earlier hearings in the Senate Finance Committee and aren't expected to offer many during debate.

''Primarily this is the governor's budget and he should be able to take credit for its positive aspects and the blame for its shortcomings,'' said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel.

Earlier in the session, House Majority Republicans struck a deal with Democrats to pump $84.7 million more into K-12 education along with $15.8 million more for the University of Alaska.

The deal also provided $10 million for construction projects that Democrat lawmakers had sought.

In return, Democrats delivered a budget-balancing vote to access the budget reserve. That issue remains unresolved in the Senate, where GOP leaders balked on trading education increases for Democrat construction projects.

Combined with school spending, the House budget spends about $67 million more than Murkowski had proposed in his earlier request for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In addition, it would force an estimated $540 million draw from the state's budget reserve to balance spending.

Budget negotiations in the House were unusually cordial. Democrats passed on the annual tradition of offering amendments that fail along party lines but are meant to highlight Republican budget cuts.

In the end, Democratic Reps. Eric Croft, Max Gruenberg, both of Anchorage; Albert Kookesh, of Angoon, and Carl Moses, of Unalaska; voted with Republicans on the final budget.

Under the Senate version of the budget, education spending goes up $82 million and the total estimated draw on the state's budget reserve would be about $350 million to balance state spending.

Murkowski had said he wouldn't take more than $400 million from the reserve fund that lawmakers use nearly every year to balance state spending.

While the Senate is expected to approve the budget as Republicans hold a 12-8 majority, changes in the budget would have to go back to the House for consideration.

''So we are far from being finished,'' Green said.

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