Less than a month is all that the 23rd Legislature has left in its first session. And while much work has been completed on Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposed 2004 budget, which aims to reshape government and close a yawning fiscal gap, much work remains to be done.
The House has passed its version of the governor's spending plan, restoring money in areas such as K-12 education but leaving cuts intact elsewhere, and is working on his revenue bills.
The Senate resumed work on its version after returning from the Easter recess, and must reconcile its plan with the House's before sending a unified budget to the governor.
Some weighty issues remain for the 60 legislators, the governor and Alaskans statewide.
Gov. Murkowski's first budget has prompted a reaction from the public like no budget has done in recent years. Most of that reaction comes from people and agencies wanting to retain this service or that one and warning of what will happen if the reduction or elimination goes through. What those comments do not often include, however, is a suggestion on what should be done to close a budget gap estimated at around $400 million to $500 million or more in the next year.
In the final few weeks of the legislative session, the public will continue making its comments and the House and Senate will continue feeling pressure from the governor to hold firm. The blurry outlines of a final budget deal have yet to materialize, so it is difficult to see where we are heading: Will the governor yield some? How much will the Legislature give him? What will the governor veto?
What we do know is that the public is becoming engaged in a discussion of state finances like it hasn't been for some time. With the state facing substantial budget problems for the next several years, we can certainly be thankful for the renewed public interest, whatever happens between now and the end of the session on May 21.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
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