Murkowski: Legislature will meet budget targets

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) House and Senate leaders need to find $100 million more in either budget cuts or new revenues, Gov. Frank Murkowski said Friday.

The Republican governor met with GOP legislative leaders Friday, after the Senate approved its version of the operating budget for fiscal 2004 earlier in the week.

The House already had approved its version of the budget. Now the two versions will go to a conference committee to find compromises.

Murkowski said lawmakers will have to come up with a plan that meets his budget targets.''

We've got a lot of work to do over the next few weeks,'' said Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks. Wilken is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Murkowski had called on lawmakers to approve an operating budget that slashes $55 million from state spending and thus draws no more than $400 million from the state's budget reserve.

To meet his own budget goal, Murkowski proposed about $113 million in taxes and fees, along with elimination of the longevity bonuses paid to eligible Alaskans and other cuts.

Although many of his key proposals face an uncertain fate, Murkowski said he was confident lawmakers would reach an accord before the Legislature adjourns, on May 21 at the latest.

We know where we're going, and we know how to get there,'' Murkowski said following his meeting with legislative leaders. There's no question in my mind they are going to meet those targets.''

The House has not acted on his tax proposals including a 12 cent increase in the state's tax on each gallon of gasoline and a tax on car rentals. But House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said those proposals should begin moving next week.

The House Ways and Means Committee is also considering a 3 percent statewide sales tax to raise up to $330 million a year. Murkowski said he prefers a seasonal sales tax, which would catch tourists, but did not say he would veto a full-year version.

Even so, there's no clear consensus among Senate Republicans for such a tax, said Senate President Gene Therriault.

When the conference committee goes to work on next year's budget, they'll need to find agreement in several key areas.

Murkowski proposed a $28 million cut in K-12 spending and an end to the senior citizen longevity bonus.

The House rejected the idea of eliminating the bonus, which sends checks of up to $250 to eligible seniors. The Senate Finance Committee has proposed saving about $27 million by limiting the program to low-income seniors, creating an income and asset test. The full Senate has not acted on that yet.

Such a proposal would eliminate about two-thirds of the 18,000 eligible Alaskans from the program.

Both the House and Senate spending plans add back some of the cuts Murkowski proposed for K-12 education. The Senate also approved a $9.5 million increase for the University of Alaska, similar to the increase proposed by Murkowski. But the House voted not to increase the university allocation.

The Senate version of the budget spends $29 million too much, Murkowski said, and the House version $37 million too much.

Combined with lower-than expected revenues from oil the state Department of Revenue now estimates the oil price will be $1.32 per barrel less than earlier predicted lawmakers must find an additional $100 million, Murkowski said.

We simply have to hit these targets,'' he said.

Alaska's governor has line-item veto power over state spending that could trim millions from any budget approved by the Legislature.

Murkowski would not say whether he would use his veto pen to meet the targets.

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