JUNEAU – By a vote of 25-15, legislation passed the House today designed to protect the Alaska Marine Highway and Higher Education Investment funds from the annual Constitutional Budget Reserve sweep.
The Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) sweep provision, established in the Alaska Constitution, requires that money in the general fund available for the appropriation at the end of each fiscal year be swept, or repaid, to the CBR.
While the sweep is reversible by a 3/4 vote of the legislature, that outcome has become difficult to achieve in recent years. Moreover, funds previously held harmless from the annual repayment have since been interpreted as subject to the sweep, destabilizing crucial ongoing state services and longstanding funds.
House Bill 322 removes the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) Fund, the AMHS Vessel Replacement Fund, and the Higher Education Investment Fund (HEIF) from the equation by moving them from the state’s general fund to the state treasury.
“A lot of Alaskans have never heard of the reverse sweep; however, they do expect ferries to operate and scholarships to be funded,” said Speaker Louise Stutes (R – Kodiak). “This legislation will enhance the stability of the Marine Highway System, as well as certainty for Alaska’s students, and I’m thrilled to see it move forward.”
“I wholeheartedly support the Marine Highway System and education,” said Representative Dan Ortiz (I – Ketchikan). “Protecting these particular accounts provides stability to the important programs and services they fund which greatly benefit Alaskans.”
“The Higher Education Investment fund needs to be protected for Alaska’s students and including this provision in HB 322 will help ensure that in future fiscal years this fund is not subject to the political whims of any given legislature or administration,” said Representative Andy Josephson (D – Anchorage). “It is the responsibility of the Alaska Legislature to guarantee that our existing grant and scholarship programs, and WWAMI remain intact.”
HB 322 moves to the Senate for further consideration.