The prospect of a state deficit exceeding half a billion dollars dominated the second day of ongoing budget debates in the Alaska House of Representatives.
After approving $175 million in temporary funding assistance for public schools on Monday, they passed only five amendments on Tuesday before 5:30 p.m., adding less than $8 million to a $6.6 billion proposal that would cover state services for the 12 months that begin July 1.
Throughout the day, lawmakers rose again and again to speak against proposals that might garner widespread support under different circumstances — money for food banks, tax credits for oil and gas drillers, aid to domestic violence victims and education programs. They were each defeated, sometimes by a single vote.
“It’s a sobering decision, and it’s a hard one,” said Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, as she announced her opposition to an amendment proposing $1.5 million for state food banks. That proposal, intended as an amendment to an amendment, failed by one vote.
Rep. Andrew Gray, D-Anchorage, objected to a small budget adjustment that would assign a Department of Law investigator to part-time work on election fraud claims.
“This is an unnecessary expense. If we want to be fiscally responsible, this is a waste of taxpayer money,” he said. That amendment, proposed by Rep. Jamie Allard, R-Eagle River, failed to pass the House.
To discourage themselves from voting in favor of budget additions, some lawmakers placed sticky notes over the “yes” voting button on their desks.
As of Tuesday evening, according to the latest available estimate from the Legislative Finance Division, the state budget deficit for the upcoming year stood at $581 million, if the governor’s proposed capital budget is included alongside the operating budget being considered by the House.
The capital budget pays for renovation and construction projects statewide, and the Senate — which is in charge of the initial legislative draft — could write a proposal larger than Dunleavy’s.
In the House, lawmakers appeared to press the brakes on spending.
Among the few new additions to the budget were $250,000 in assistance to Matanuska-Susitna Borough food banks, a $2 million deposit into the state’s clean air protection fund, and the reversal of a $5 million cut to the state’s grant program to local governments.
The addition of Mat-Su food aid came after Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, made the case that prior emergency aid failed to adequately meet the needs of his region.
If budget additions were in short supply on Tuesday, so were budget cuts. The lone budget-cutting amendment adopted on Tuesday, from Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, was for $1,000.
The House continued to debate amendments late Tuesday and was scheduled to continue work Wednesday. Ninety-four amendments were submitted by lawmakers before a noon deadline on Tuesday; as of 6:30 p.m., they had reached Amendment No. 58 and were on pace for a final budgetary vote on Thursday.
Any proposal passed by the House is subject to review and possible adjustment by the Senate and the governor, who may veto or reduce individual line items.
Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.