Senate Republicans turn back Democrat amendments

Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Senate Democrats unsuccessfully tried to use more than $20 million from the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation endowment to prop up next year's education funding.

It was one of several amendments rejected by majority Republicans during debate Monday on next year's operating budget.

Gov. Frank Murkowski had proposed liquidating the $87 million endowment and dumping the cash into the general fund, the state's main funding account.

Democrats first offered an amendment to save the endowment, arguing that it has funded many worthwhile programs. All Senate Republicans voted against the amendment and it failed 12-8.

Then they offered two proposals to divide the money between kindergarten-12th grade education, adult basic education and the University of Alaska.

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, argued that Murkowski and other elected Republican lawmakers told voters education was a top priority. The amendments would fulfill that promise.

We are giving you the opportunity today to live up to that campaign rhetoric,'' Ellis said. The amendments were voted down 12-8 along party lines.

The school funding formula would have been increased by $22.4 million under one amendment, raising per-pupil spending by $271. That's the same amount of increase sought by NEA-Alaska.

Another amendment would have divided nearly $28 million between the school funding formula, adult basic education, school transportation costs and community schools programs.

It would have fully funded Murkowski's request for the University of Alaska by adding $500,000 to the $9.5 million approved by the Senate Finance Committee.

Democrats argued that if the GOP-controlled Legislature was going to approve the governor's request to liquidate the science and technology fund, some of it should go toward education.

Senate Finance co-chair Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said the issue is not that simple. Murkowski proposed using the science and technology endowment to help balance next year's budget.

It would just leave a hole we would have to fill with something else,'' Wilken said.

Lawmakers have spent much of the session filling holes in the budget as they rearrange Murkowski's spending plan.

The governor's budget was aimed at reducing state spending in an effort to lessen the draw on the $1.9 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Murkowski had proposed cutting $10 million in grants to schools, $10.7 million in pupil transportation and eliminating community schools and the Alyeska Central School.

The House rejected Murkowski's proposal to cut the grants and reimbursements to schools for some of their transportation costs. The budget that the Senate debated on Monday used the grants to increase the state's foundation formula.

In all, the Senate and the House proposed spending more for education than Murkowski had initially wanted. The Senate Finance Committee voted on Thursday to increase the foundation formula by $159 per pupil.

I think the Senate last week made major progress in bringing K-12 back, certainly not to the funding level that some would want, but certainly adequate funding for fiscal year '04,'' Wilken said.

Democrats also proposed an amendment to use the Constitutional Budget Reserve to pay for the cost of Permanent Fund dividends.

In past years, lawmakers have relied on the reserve fund to balance the state budget. Dividends have been paid for from earnings of the $23.4 billion Permanent Fund.

But investment losses have raised the possibility that there may not be enough to fund the cost of paying Permanent Fund dividends to eligible Alaskans.

The Senate rejected the measure 12-8 along party lines.

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