Alaskans have received an early Christmas present in the form of Gov. Sarah Palin's proposed spending plan.
The best gift is the increase in education spending that the governor has suggested. There's no reason for legislators not to go along with that particular proposal during the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 15.
Palin's plan pushes education spending to more than $1 billion a year for three years. Her proposal would forward fund education (let's hope this ends having to pink-slip teachers and then hire them back after the state budget process is complete) and increase the base student allocation by $200 (it is now $5,380).
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District should benefit by Palin's plan to help ensure high-cost areas are not left behind by phasing in recommendations of the Institute of Social and Economic Research on area cost differentials.
There's also good news in Palin's proposal to recalibrate the pupil transportation grants to more accurately reflect today's costs.
Palin is absolutely correct when she says the steps she has proposed are critical to "shift the annual debate from how much are we going to spend on education to how we can be innovative and work to improve the outcome of our education system."
Plus, with the "how much" to education question settled, lawmakers may actually be able to wrap up the session in 90 days. Remember, a ballot measure approved by voters in 2006 truncated the 121-day legislative session and the new 90-day length takes effect in 2008.
With $39.7 billion in its permanent fund, this state has spent way too much time pinching pennies when it comes to education. There's no reason Alaska shouldn't be leading the world when it comes to successful students.
It's a clich, but those students are the state's future and the stronger the foundation of their education, the brighter their future and the state's.
Palin's budget focuses on four core areas that are likely to win the support of legislators and Alaskans:
* Saving for the future;
* Living within the state's means;
* Expanding resource development; and
* Focusing investments on core services.
In addition to investing more than $1 billion a year in K-12 education, Palin also has proposed $100 million for school construction and major maintenance; $10.1 million for workforce training and the expansion of health care engineering and construction management programs at the University of Alaska; $20.3 million to increase assistance to low-income seniors; $75 million to help local communities provide tax relief or meet local priorities; $406 million to help offset retirement costs for state and local governments and school districts; $4.5 million to fill 20 vacant trooper positions and add 11 new trooper and court security officers; $379 million to deposit into the Constitutional Budget Reserve; and $2.4 billion to deposit into the corpus of the permanent fund.
Palin has presented a common-sense approach to the state's budget with an eye on the future.
Let the debates begin.
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