Knowles signs budget bill, deletes GOP projects

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles signed into law a $2.4 billion budget that funds state government next fiscal year, but deleted millions in GOP projects.

Knowles capped a legislative session filled with partisan rancor by axing about $23 million in projects Republicans sought for their districts.

The governor chided lawmakers for cutting essential state services in the same year as funding such projects.

''It makes a mockery of the cries for fiscal restraint,'' Knowles said.

Alaska's fiscal straits were a pressing concern for the Legislature this year as the state faces a $1 billion budget deficit in future years.

The state is expected to have a $859 million shortfall next year that will be made up from the state's Constitutional Budget Reserve.

The GOP-controlled Legislature dismissed Knowles' proposed budget, which included about $180 million in increased spending.

Lawmakers approved a scaled-down operating budget of $2.2 billion for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. It is about $15.6 million more than this fiscal year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

State officials closed 11 state parks, eliminated 13 positions in the Department of Public Safety and ended winter maintenance of the Steese and other highways.

The Legislature approved a $109.8 million capital budget that includes construction projects around the state. One of the expenses approved by the Legislature was a $20,000 grant to Larsen Bay for insect-killing devices called ''Mosquito Magnet.''

''While recognizing the abundance of mosquitoes in Alaska, asking the state to pay for 'mosquito magnets' cannot be justified,'' Knowles said in a letter to legislative leaders.

Among other projects Knowles vetoed Friday:

n A $50,000 grant to the Alaska Trappers Association to make a wolf-trapping video and a $150,000 grant for the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.

n A $1 million, no-interest loan to Delta Junction to pay legal expenses for a lawsuit stemming from a plan to build a private prison.

n A $15.5 million grant to the Matanuska Electric Association for power projects. Knowles left intact $500,000 to the association.

n Another $231,300 for legislative studies on welfare in Alaska and the state's health facilities. He also cut $100,000 to a group called World Trade Center for a study on establishing a trade center in Anchorage.

In vetoing the projects, Knowles pointed out that these funds could have been used to maintain essential state services such as winter road maintenance that will be curtailed next year.

Knowles also accused GOP budget writers of hiding at least $20 million in state spending for next year through a bill that takes effect in the current year.

Republicans defended the budget approved this legislative session as an effort to hold down overall state spending.

''When all the numbers come in and you look at the full picture, I think we did hold the line on general fund spending in the operating budget,'' said Sen. Dave Donley, R-Anchorage, who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

Donley would not comment on the merits of specific projects Knowles vetoed from the state budget. But he said some projects that appear unimportant to the state are necessary for local communities that benefit from them.

Donley was also critical of Knowles for what he calls $1 billion in proposed state spending increases during the governor's eight years in office.

''His track record is not one of a budget reducer,'' Donley said.

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