Knowles budget increases start at $80.6 million

Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2000

JUNEAU -- In the first of what will likely be a series of proposed budget increases, the Knowles administration on Monday called for at least $80.6 million more from the state's general fund next year to maintain or beef up existing services.

Annalee McConnell, Gov. Tony Knowles' budget director, wouldn't release totals for the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins next July. And the outline she sketched left out education funding and other areas where Knowles, a Democrat, will likely seek big increases. The administration must release its proposed budget by Dec. 15.

Instead, McConnell focused on the cost of maintaining the services the state currently provides.

''We are keeping our commitments on projects and services that are already in place,'' McConnell said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has greeted similar proposals coolly in the past, often forcing the administration to pay for increases in some areas with cuts elsewhere.

''How do we have a maintenance budget but yet have increases?'' asked Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, the vice chairman of the House Finance Committee. ''Is this a semantic problem or is this fuzzy math?''

The biggest item was $28.5 million for payments on bonds issued by the state. The increase comes from the delayed effect of selling bonds to pay for capital projects instead of using cash. That practice allowed smaller general fund budgets in recent years as payments for past debt dwindled.

An additional $23.6 million will be needed to meet obligations the state is required to pay either by law or under contracts with the public sector, McConnell said, including:

--$13 million more for Medicaid, mostly for 650 more elderly and disabled patients who require particularly costly care.

--$2.6 million for foster care and subsidized adoptions.

--$1.4 million to pay for a law passed this year increasing the rate the state pays assisted living centers.

Increases in these so-called formula programs will also wipe out about $5.2 million in savings from the state's ongoing welfare reform effort and a $1 million savings from the phaseout of the longevity bonus, the Office of Management and Budget said.

McConnell's estimate also includes $5.1 million for pay and benefit increases for University of Alaska employees, $2 million for the second year of other state employee contracts, and $2 million to fully cover the cost of leases with the private sector.

Another $15.3 million will be required to replace one-time or short-term sources of money that were used to pay for certain programs and make the general fund portion of the budget smaller, McConnell said.

For example, an unusual $4.4 million supplemental dividend from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority was used in the current fiscal year to cover increases in the state's cost for transporting children to school.

Also included in that total is an additional $1.8 million for the Marine Highway Fund, which has been depleted by budget cuts and losses caused by the Canadian blockade of the Malaspina in 1997 and the fire aboard the Columbia this year.

Another $6.8 million would pay the full-year operating cost for facilities that are opening part-way through the current fiscal year, including $3.4 for the new Anchorage jail and $1.4 million for juvenile detention centers in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Ketchikan.

McConnell also called for $4.2 million in increases to clear backlogs and deal with increased workloads at various agencies, including $300,000 for water use permits, $100,000 for habitat permitting for oil and gas projects, and $130,000 for land records.

''These are all areas where the backlogs are significant where we've heard from industry that they really need to get their permitting done more quickly,'' McConnell said.

While McConnell's presentation was focused mainly on the increased cost of providing state services, among the proposals were several items not directly driven by increased costs, legal requirements or contracts, including:

--$828,500 for a 15 percent increase in pay for village public safety officers. The administration maintains the increase is needed to fight high turnover.

--$400,000 to increase the rate paid to municipalities for housing state prisoners in their jails.

--$200,000 for the ferry system's marketing budget, which currently costs $50,000 a year. The administration argues that the money is needed put the system on a par with similar ferries elsewhere.

Meanwhile, McConnell wouldn't discuss any new proposals for education, health, public safety, the University of Alaska or capital projects such as schools, roads and ferries. More money for those areas will likely drive Knowles' proposed total increase to more than $100 million.

''I'm not going to give you a number at this point,'' McConnell said. ''Yes, there will be more than what we have here.''

Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue was scheduled to announce budget plans for public health and disease control on Tuesday. Knowles was expected to make proposals for education later this week and for public safety next week, said Bob King, Knowles' spokesman.

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