Dear Friends, Neighbors, and Fellow Fairbanksans,
Last Thursday, the House passed its version of the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) operating budget, with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents voting to pass a budget which aims to protect Alaska’s education, public safety, transportation, and health care programs. While I do not feel that the budget is perfect, it is a great improvement on the budget proposed by the governor two months ago.
After the House Finance committee and subcommittees spent weeks analyzing and amending the budget, we spent three days voting on amendments before ultimately passing a budget which cuts over $200M in spending while avoiding the draconian, unsustainable cuts proposed by the governor. The impact of every single cut was carefully analyzed, with the goal of streamlining government without wrecking the economy.
In the University subcommittee, in an attempt to ameloriate some of the effects of previous cuts, I offered (and the committee accepted) an amendment which added $10M to the University budget. The finance committee then stripped this amendment and reduced the University budget by an additional $10M. I offered the same amendment on the House floor. Many amendments (including mine) were ‘rolled to the bottom’ and were ultimately not considered. While I am glad that we avoided a lengthy debate regarding guns on campus or abortion restrictions (neither of which have a thing to do with the budget), I was frustrated that the House chose to reduce the University budget.
On the flip side, K-12 education funding escaped unscathed. Loads of research demonstrate that investments in early education pay massive returns; an investment in our children is truly an investment in our future, and the cuts to education over the last few years have run counter to Alaska’s long-term health and well-being.
Over the last few months, those of us in the Legislature have heard from thousands of Alaskans who have delivered us a constant, coherent message – while spending might be reduced, budget cuts without regard for their effect is a disaster waiting to happen. The overall message I’ve been hearing is “don’t cut essential services such as education, the University, and Medicaid.” I’ve also heard, “I’d be willing to take a smaller PFD and pay taxes.” If we fund the budget to the same extent as last year, we’d still be able to provide a family of four around $3000 in PFD payments. Many people have asked me, “Where’s the crisis?”