House passes compromise budget, sends it to Senate after deal reached over state worker raises

Energy Associated Press

The Alaska House on Thursday passed a compromise budget that includes money for state employee pay raises negotiated last year.

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The state Senate was scheduled to consider the measure later in the day. Approval would avoid a partial shutdown of state government starting in early July.

Lawmakers are in their second special session since the regular session ended in April. The main sticking point in the $5 billion budget was pay raises.

The compromise asks Gov. Bill Walker to not negotiate raises in the future, but does allow for negotiations to reopen if oil goes above $95 a barrel or below $45 a barrel.

The final vote was 42-7. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, who was booted from the majority for not supporting an earlier version of the budget, maintained her objections and said not enough was done to reduce spending.

"We are spending way too much today at the expense of tomorrow," she said.

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The University of Alaska could be doing more to develop its land holdings to become more self-sufficient, she said. Federal government requirements in education standards are costing the state millions, she said.

"My vote 'no' today is to protect Alaskans from unnecessary taxes" that are sure to come, Reinbold said.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said people worked across party lines for the compromise budget. The document is a reflection of reflects both parties' values, he said.

"I'm not going to vote 'no' just because there are things I disagree with," Gara said.

The compromise will allow elderly Alaskans more money for medicine and other expenses and children to have "a better chance for a fair shake."

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, was a no vote. The budget, he said after speaking to the Anchorage School District, is likely to result in the loss of 40 to 50 employees. The district will try to avoid cutting teachers, he said, but classrooms are likely to be more crowded.

He was troubled, he said, that a priority of Gov. Bill Walker, an expansion of Medicaid benefits, was not even allowed to come up for a floor vote.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said future budgets will have to look at the other side of the financial ledger: additional revenue.

"I do not know a way that we can cut our way to a balanced budget," Edgmon said.

The "no" votes included Republican Reinbold and Josephson along with his fellow Anchorage Democrats Chris Tuck and Harriet Drummond. Also voting no were Democrats Dave Guttenberg and Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks and Sam Kito of Juneau.

When it came time to vote to take money from a giant state savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve, only Reinbold voted no.