March 4

By Andrew Kitchenman

A key Alaska legislative committee has drafted a state budget that would increase state spending more than Gov. Mike Dunleavy planned. It also would pay a combined permanent fund dividend and energy relief check of roughly $2,500.

The budget proposal unveiled on Friday by the House Finance Committee would spend $4.1 billion in state funding to run state government. That’s $148 million more than Dunleavy proposed.

The committee draft also includes would increase Dunleavy’s proposal by:

$50 million for public schools;
$5 million for senior and disability services;
$4.6 million for the University of Alaska;
$4 million for regional and community jails and;
$1.5 million for public radio.
The committee took public testimony immediately after presenting budget details.

Anchorage resident Trevor Storrs is the president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing abuse and neglect. He testified in favor of the budget.

“We must invest in our kids and the families and the agencies that care for them,” he said.

Dunleavy had proposed a dividend that would equal half of the amount the state plans to draw in permanent fund earnings. The committee proposed a similar amount but split it between the PFD and a one-time energy relief check. The future of the PFD formula remains unresolved.

The budget doesn’t include the additional $1,215 payment Dunleavy has proposed to make up the difference between what Alaskans received in last year’s PFD and what he had wanted. That proposal is in a separate bill.

Palmer resident Jean Holt said the Legislature should pay a higher dividend.

“This energy relief check is a bribe to buy our vote,” she said.

The committee plans to wait until the administration updates its revenue forecast before moving the budget along. That’s expected on March 15. If recent oil price forecasts hold up, the state will have more than $1 billion in additional revenue to budget.

After the committee and the entire House vote on amendments and the overall bill, the budget would then go to the Senate.

Saturday is the last hearing the committee will hold to take public testimony on the operating budget. It is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.