Senate approves bill to force governor to chose priorities

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- State departments would have to rank their programs in order of importance under a bill passed in the Senate on Tuesday.

The change would make it easier for a future Legislature to make cuts in state spending during lean times, said lawmakers who backed the plan.

The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 15-5. Sen. Donny Olson, of Nome, cast the lone Democrat vote in favor of it.

Alaska faces an estimated $963 million budget deficit next year and Republicans complained bitterly that Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles has not cooperated in reducing spending among agencies.

Knowles leaves office in December after serving two consecutive terms, so he is not affected by the bill. But a spokesman for the governor said the measure is unnecessary.

''It's just an additional hoop the Legislature is unnecessarily forcing agencies to jump through,'' said Knowles' spokesman Bob King. ''It's not going to do anything to address the fiscal gap.''

Supporters of the bill said legislators are only in Juneau four months of the year, and the full-time employees in the administration know better than they what state services need the most funding.

''I think it's not a weapon, it's information. And information is valuable when you are trying to deal with a problem of this magnitude,'' said Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks.

Kelly sponsored a measure to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to force such a change. That measure passed the Senate 14-5 and is now before the House Judiciary Committee.

Kelly said it is unclear whether the House bill passed on Tuesday is constitutional. The measure passed in the Senate on Tuesday is sponsored by Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River.

Democrat lawmakers have argued against the bill, saying it would force the administration to choose between equally important programs such as food stamps and temporary welfare assistance.

Ultimately, it's the Legislature's responsibility to set budget priorities, King said. He said the bill would give lawmakers ''political cover'' to make painful cuts in spending.

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis served notice of reconsideration, which means the bill could be considered one more time before advancing to the governor for consideration.

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The bill is House Bill House Bill 349.

The resolution is Senate Joint Resolution 38.



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