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Charities work to grasp budget cuts

Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Gov. Frank Murkowski's budget cuts to health and social programs have left Alaska charitable groups scrambling to figure out what it all means for the poor, sick and elderly.

''From where we sit right now, we know there will be an impact and we know that these cuts will hurt people,'' said Michele Brown of the United Way of Anchorage.

Other groups such as Catholic Social Services fear the Murkowski cuts will have ''grave impacts,'' said Ellen Krsnak, community relations director for the Anchorage-based group.

But Catholic Social Services, like the United Way and municipal health officials, was busy on Friday trying to figure out just what the long list of cuts will mean for Alaskans.

Brown said there will be a greater need for charitable efforts to allay the overall economic impact of Murkowski's $138 million in budget vetoes. The big item was the ending of longevity bonus checks for 18,000 Alaska seniors. It'll be replaced for one year with a need-based program.

The governor also cut $37 million in state aid to local governments, where social service spending could be triggered for cuts as the municipalities tighten their belts. The state cuts will also mean a loss of some federal matching funds.

Murkowski vetoed more money from the Department of Health and Social Services than any other department, nearly $70 million in all, including the $44.5 million for the longevity bonus.

The cuts range from programs that help the chronic and terminally ill to those that provide child care and alcohol treatment.

Murkowski's budget chief, Cheryl Frasca, said federal funds are expected to offset some of the cuts. And Murkowski said Thursday that his health and social services commissioner, Joel Gilbertson, is committed to keeping the service level high.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Mike Hawker, who chaired the health and social services budget subcommittee in the state House, said the cuts look a lot like what he proposed during the legislative session. He did not propose ending the longevity bonus, though.

Hawker maintains the social services cuts are largely efficiencies that will not end up compromising services to the public.

The governor's chief of staff, Jim Clark, told lawmakers last month that budget vetoes were coming if the Legislature did not pass a faltering sales tax bill. The tax died hours later.

Some lawmakers then said the pain from Murkowski's budget cuts would convince Alaskans of the need for a tax. But that was when the governor's staff was also talking about slashing areas like education and the civil air patrol which Murkowski spared.

Hawker, one of the prime architects of the sales tax, said he does not think Alaskans need to feel pain to support a tax. He said he believes Murkowski's vetoes will raise the confidence of the public that the state is getting a handle on spending. And that helps the case for a tax, Hawker said.



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