House Panel Making Few Budget Changes

By JAMES BROOKS
Alaska Beacon
    The Alaska House Finance Committee voted to boost funding for public radio and for a youth detox program Monday as it continued to debate the latest draft of the state’s upcoming operating budget.
    The committee is expected to work through the first half of this week on amendments to the $10.4 billion document that will fund government services for the 12 months beginning July 1.
    The most substantial addition approved Monday was $1.1 million, the first half of a two-year, $2 million project to expand youth behavioral health programs offered by Volunteers of America, a national faith-based organization.
    The group’s Alaska chapter helped more than 1,100 people last year, said chapter president and CEO Julia Luey. State funding will allow it to offer an additional level of care at its existing facility in Southcentral Alaska.
    Luey said the group will be able to hire psychiatric and medical staff, allowing it to better help Alaskans.
    “We don’t have enough detox opportunities,” said Rep. Alyse Galvin, I-Anchorage.
    The idea came from Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage. Josephson has proposed dozens of changes to the budget, but few have been adopted so far.
    He said the addition for VOA is critical, given the struggles at North Star Behavioral System, a for-profit psychiatric hospital that was the subject of critical investigations by the Anchorage Daily News and federal officials.
    “We know that VOA is the only organization in the state to offer youth substance services …. The state has invested in VOA and didn’t regret it,” he said.
    Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, reluctantly supported the proposal, saying that it should be balanced with budget cuts.
    “I would like to see a similar $1.1 million reduction (in the budget),” he said.
    Members of the committee adopted only one new budget reduction Monday, a $598,000 cut to the budget of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. that is equivalent to the top two salaries at the state-owned corporation.
    AGDC is in charge of developing AKLNG, the proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline, and president Frank Richards is the state’s highest-paid executive.
    Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, proposed eliminating all funding for the agency, but Stapp, with the support of the finance committee, shrunk the proposed reduction to just one-tenth of Hannan’s original figure.
    Tim Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for AGDC, said by email that the agency is continuing to follow the budget process and has “confidence the legislature will provide adequate funding to support AGDC in advancing the Alaska LNG project as a viable option to meet Alaska’s energy needs.”
    In another amendment, the committee voted to boost funding for Head Start, the children’s education program, by $200,000 above a previously authorized $5 million boost.
    Committee members also approved $1.2 million for a handful of rural public radio stations that act as emergency communications for their communities.
    State lawmakers have repeatedly funded public radio, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy has vetoed the appropriation every year since he took office in 2018.
    “Tough amendment, because we’ve seen the governor veto virtually every radio dollar we’ve put in,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham.
    Members of the committee voted down more than two dozen amendments, including proposed budget increases for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and a proposed budget cut to the Alaska Department of Law.
    Last week, the committee declined to change a proposed $2,272 Permanent Fund dividend after hours of debate and discussion, but that figure is likely to drop when the budget heads to the Senate, something expected no later than April 12.
    Senate leaders have repeatedly expressed doubts that the House figure is fiscally responsible, and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has said he intends to write a smaller number into the Senate’s draft budget.
    The House’s draft budget must be compromised with one passed by the Senate before the end of this year’s legislative session.
    “There are many different ways this budget could come out,” Josephson said shortly before the committee adjourned on Monday.
    Further amendments are expected today.
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https://alaskabeacon.com/james-brooks

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20 YEARS AGO

April 2004

Photo caption: Grace Larson holds one of the Easter breads she baked for sale at the annual Rainy Day Bazaar Saturday at Centennial Hall. Hundreds turned out for the event, sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard Spouses and Women’s Association.

50 YEARS AGO

April 1974

All youngsters from walking age on up to age 12 are invited to an Easter egg hunt Sunday. Ages 5 and under meet at the Centennial Building; ages 6-9 in front of the visitor center at Totem Park; and ages 10-12 at Totem Park. Some $150 in cash and merchandise prizes will be offered.

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