Senate passes supplemental spending bill

SPENDING: Move signals some progress over budgets stalemate.

April 20, 2011 

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Senate passed a $158 million supplemental spending bill Wednesday, a sign of progress in the special legislative session.

Senate negotiators wanted assurances from the House that the spending bill wouldn't be changed. While the more contentious items had been stripped from the plan, there remained the possibility the House would graft onto the bill its own version of a capital budget.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, who met with Senate leaders on the issue, said he doubted there would be any changes to it.

Disagreements over the capital budget led to an impasse between the House and Senate and to the current special session.

If the House passed a capital budget, it could adjourn, assuming both chambers had already agreed upon an operating budget. So far, they haven't.

The operating budget is the only bill on a 10-bill special session call sheet that the Legislature must pass, and it contains some touchy pieces, such as $400 million for an endowment for an energy assistance program and $60 million for a ferry replacement fund. The Senate considers these savings, but the House has taken issue with that characterization and whether that much money should be put toward those specific items.

Assuming the House passes the supplemental bill, which covers unanticipated costs in the current fiscal year, the only bills left on the call sheet would be the operating, capital and mental health budgets and bills addressing the contentious issue of coastal management and establishing a long-term fund for the governor's merit scholarship program.

Contingency language in the capital budget remains a major stumbling block. It was intended, in part, to protect energy projects from the governor's veto threats over the Senate's failure to pass a bill addressing oil taxes.

Stedman said that as far as he knows, members of the Senate's bipartisan majority, of which he's a part, like the language. But Chenault said the Senate is actually willing to discuss the language now, which he views as positive.

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