As of the publication date for this article there will be just 19 days remaining until the end of this session. Many issues are as yet unresolved and your continued comments and testimony on the various matters before us are still of great importance. While schedules get very hectic at this time of year, I hope you will stay in contact. A lot of issues are flushed out in the last few days, and I want to continue to represent your concerns and to do the best job that I can on your behalf.
Even though this has been my freshman term, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide range of issues of considerable importance to the peninsula. In my previous articles, I have written about the Legislature's need to establish a fiscal plan and to hold the line on spending, the need for revenue-generating measures and issues of importance to the commercial and sport fishing industries.
In addition to the many letters, e-mails and phone calls I have received, I have also met personally with numerous constituents. At this time, I would like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation to those individuals who have taken the time to come to Juneau in support of issues of importance to them personally. I met with many individuals regarding the Homer annexation proposal, Kenai Peninsula College representatives and individuals here to seek support for education funding, just to name a few of their issues.
By far, the greatest number of constituents contacting me or coming to Juneau to meet with me in person have been concerned about funding levels for education. As I have mentioned in previous articles, education funding is my top priority and the top priority of nearly every one of my colleagues. The version of the operating budget that passed the House a few weeks ago reflected that priority with funding from all sources (including funding for the Learning Opportunity Grants) being set at $991.9 million. Of that amount, the General Purpose general funds amounted to $748.1 million and met the House target exactly. However, there is a decrease in the General Fund portion because the department has projected that it will not need as much in the foundation formula as in the previous year.
In looking at the governor's amended budget request for education, some people will say we cut it; however, the truth is that we just did not fund the governor's total request. The governor wanted $997.9 million, and under the House version of the budget the department would receive $991.9 million. In effect, the House budget actually provides $20.4 million more than last year (a 2.1 percent increase over FY 02).
However, the budget process is still far from over, and after the Senate determines its spending levels, there will no doubt be a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions. But when all is said and done, I am confident that we will fund education in a manner that reflects its top priority status. However, we will still have a long way to go, and continued emphasis on education will no doubt be our top priority in the next Legislature as well.
While working on the various issues before us, much soul searching will be going on to help find answers to extremely difficult and divisive questions -- many that will not be resolved until the last days of the session, and some that will be put off and brought up again next year. At session's end, I will be looking forward to returning home and talking with as many of you as possible throughout the interim. I want to hear your concerns and suggestions for what we should address in the next Legislature.
Rep. Drew Scalzi is a first-term Republican from Homer.
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