February 26, 2016
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State Capitol Rm 112
Juneau, AK 99801
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733 W. 4th Avenue
Anchorage, AK 99501
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Brueghel's vision of low oil prices
This is the part of the budget process when the Finance subcommittees finalize their changes to the budget Governor Walker submitted. This process can get a little squirrely, and there is ample opportunity for the chair of the subcommittee to amend the governor's budget to include pretty sweeping cuts. After the subcommittees meet, they add to and subtract from the governor's budget, they then amend their recommendations and send them on to the full House Finance Committee. This is the Legislature's first step in passing a budget, and I am already pretty concerned with what I see.
I wanted to write and let you know some of the noteworthy cuts that were made this week to the various government departments. Consider this the greatest hits. It is easy for legislators to view these cuts as just a number but as you and I both know, each cut — especially layoffs — represent some very hard choices and conversations around Alaskan dinner tables. This year these cuts are likely to have REAL impacts on you and your neighbors in other parts of the state. If you are a UA student, a senior citizen, a state employee, or a member of any Alaskan community, these cuts are likely to change your life in some way.
There are some summary descriptions below, please take a look and let me know how or if these affect you, or your family.
If you are in Juneau you can testify in person on Monday February 29, from 4:00-6:00pm. There also will be time to testify next week at the Anchorage LIO from 1:00-4:30pm on Wednesday March 2. I expect there will be a big group there. If you think the cuts are bad let the Finance Committee know, if you think they should slash away, let them know that too! If you are not able to testify in person or don’t feel like heading downtown feel free to send written testimony to email@example.com. It would be great if you could copy me as well at Rep.Harriet.Drummond@akleg.gov. Again, looking forward to hearing from you.
It could have been worse, but was still pretty bad. The subcommittee recommended huge cuts, most of which I oppose.
The Education finance subcommittee cut funding to the Parents as Teachers/Best Beginnings programs. These programs were added back into the Governor's budget and were eliminated from the subcommittee budget to the tune of $820,000. The committee cut Pre-K Grants by $2 Million against the objections of at least three members. There were also drastic cuts to broadband infrastructure funding. The governor made a cut and the subcommittee added to it. The subcommittee proposed a cut of $1.59 Million. This is vital for rural communities to be connected to the rest of the state, and the world. This week I heard from the superintendent of a Southeast Alaska school district that when the cruise ships arrive in her town from late April through September, the additional strain of tens of thousands of visitors and crew using internet disrupts broadband to the schools. I understand that many other small communities are impacted by inadequate internet infrastructure. This is absurd.
Additional cuts include a $1.3 Million cut to the highly regarded Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, a $1.5 Million cut to the Statewide Teacher Mentoring Program, a $1 Million cut to combined library and museum operations and a $700,000 cut to the Online with Libraries (OWL) program. For many people this is their only access to many educational resources. My colleagues submitted at least eight amendments to restore full or partial funding to these programs, all of which were shot down.
Sorry, Big Bird.
The Subcommittee proposed a cut of $2.68 million to public broadcasting, including television and radio. This will impact the ability of our public broadcasting stations to reach Alaskans. In Anchorage we have a number of media outlets at our disposal, but in rural Alaska there are numerous places where public media is the only news available, and those local stations are key to providing public notice on government, educational information, and cultural activities. This will also reduce federal grants by more than $1 million because the federal grants need to be matched by state money.
I was fortunate to serve on this subcommittee. We voted to deny all raises for Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, Tax Division and Alaska Retirement Management Board employees. There is an argument that having the flexibility to pay state employees in the financial sector industry comparable rates allows us to attract world class talent, but in this fiscal climate it was decided that austerity is best. To offset this the committee expressed a desire through intent language, that the department direct funding towards investment positions.
We also reduced the AKLNG project legal and consulting fees from $1.7 million to $1 million.
The University subcommittee’s budget, at $300 million, includes a $35 million cut from the Governor’s request, which was already a $15 million cut from last year’s budget. So the University is facing a $50 million cut from last year (yikes). Since the legislature just gives the University a lump sum, there are technically no specific cuts, but a funding cut that large will almost certainly mean the elimination of hundreds of jobs and could have a major impact on programs and services. There were some attempts at amendments to add back money for research, the UA Museum of the North, and theUAF Fire Department (one of the only student staff fire departments in the country!).
Department of Environmental Conservation
This was an especially interesting meeting to watch. There were over three dozen amendmentssubmitted to shrink the department. Eventually the subcommittee for DEC eliminated two positions in the Commissioner's office and one in the food safety program.
I sit on this Committee. We made pretty modest cuts compared to some other departments. In DOC there is not a lot of room to cut without affecting the ability of the department to keep prisoners, staff, and the public safe. In fact there was a report published last week that recommended that Corrections would need to add about 100 employees in order to maintain safe staffing levels. These are the kinds of choices that we are going to run up against as our legislature continues to shrink the budget, there is a bottom line that when we hit it hinders the ability of the state to execute its duties.
Health and Human Services
Health and Human services is one of the largest state departments. It is so big that it does not get a subcommittee, its budget is decided by the full Finance Committee. Along with Education it accounts for the lion's share of state expenditure. This makes DHSS a target for cuts. The cuts include a reduction of $1.78 million from Alaska Pioneer homes on top of the Governor’s reduction of $1 Million this year and $1.67 Million last year. That's a $4.45 Million reduction in two years -- this seems like an arbitrary and dangerous cut. In addition to the cuts to the Pioneer Homes. The Governor’s last budget proposal reduced support for some seniors from $125.00 to $47.00 in state assistance each month. The Finance Committee voted to take that away as well. Under the current finance proposal 5,348 seniors making between $14,000 to $25,000 each year will receive no check from the state.
The Committee also proposed a cut of $3 Million from behavioral health treatment and recovery programs on top of the Governor’s cut of $5.7 Million. This is a reduction of $8.7 Million for services.
Another particularly heavy cut is to the Nome Department of Juvenile Justice Youth Facility. This cutwill mean a loss of 20 jobs. These young inmates will not just disappear if the legislature cuts their facility. They will still have to be cared for, and it could be even more costly to hire probation officers, transport inmates and continue to provide constitutionally mandated services without having regional facilities.
I hope this was helpful for you in filtering all of this out. Although the subcommittee cuts are usually more radical than the final full finance cuts these reductions to the state budget are very concerning and could have devastating consequences. As always the ADN provides good day to day coverage of the legislative session. If you have specific questions my staff stands ready to assist.
Mark Your Calendar!
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This position pays $9.50 per hour for hours worked on both Training and Election Day. Please consider becoming an election worker.
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