Budget talks entering final phase

State budget talks are entering their final phase. The House and Senate have appointed members to a budget conference committee.

The committee will work out differences between the operating budgets passed by both bodies.

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House Finance Co-Chairs Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake) and Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks) confer during Saturday's hearing. The House and Senate Finance committees have most of the work this session, as lawmakers consider buying out TransCanada's stake in the Alaska LNG project. (Rachel Waldholz/APRN)
Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake) and Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks), two of the House members of the conference committee.  (File photo Rachel Waldholz, APRN – Anchorage)

The House budget would cut 280 million dollars from the part of the budget under the Legislature’s control. The Senate would cut nearly 350 million.

The biggest difference between the two budgets is that the Senate includes 100 million in cuts that aren’t allocated to a specific department. It’s not clear if the final budget will include this cut. The Legislature could find specific areas to cut, or ask Governor Bill Walker to make the cuts on his own.

The House members of the conference committee are the Republican Finance Committee co-chairmen Mark Neuman of Big Lake and Steve Thompson of Fairbanks, and Anchorage Democrat Les Gara.

The Senate members are Republicans Pete Kelly of Fairbanks and Anna MacKinnon of Eagle River, and Democrat Lyman Hoffman of Bethel.

Hoffman is a member of the majority caucus, so there will be no minority-caucus senators on the conference committee.

The minority-caucus Democrats lost their only member of the Senate Finance Committee in February, when Senator Donnie Olson switched caucuses. The Democrats also lost their status as an official minority caucus, which entitles them to have a member on standing committees.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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