Gov. Sean Parnell targeted his budget vetoes on Monday at early childhood programs, substance abuse treatment, a controversial moose relocation effort and a judicial retirement fund.
With those vetoes, the governor cut less than $67 million from the budget that passed the Legislature in April, far less than the hundreds of millions he extracted each of the past two years. In a speech to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Parnell credited the Legislature for staying within his spending cap.
"It took three sessions, but this year, both the House and the Senate joined with me and believed me when I said that I would enforce a spending limit," Parnell told the chamber crowd.
In 2010, he vetoed a record $300 million-plus from the budget. He topped that last year with a new record of more than $400 million in vetoed spending.
This year, that wasn't necessary, the governor said. He led the chamber in clapping for lawmakers.
The state budget for the spending year that begins July 1 totals $12.1 billion.
Republican legislative leaders, including Senate President Gary Stevens of Kodiak, who has publicly opposed the governor on key issues including oil tax cuts, on Monday said they were pleased with the budget. But some Democrats said his cuts will hurt those who need help the most.
"The Legislature agreed not to overspend, and in return, the governor said he would not veto projects," Stevens said in a written statement. "Both sides kept their side of the deal."
Rep. Bill Stoltze, a Republican from Chugiak and co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said the governor trimmed judiciously. With declining oil production, Stoltze said, "this is a responsible budget but not a sustainable budget."Democrats said the governor was short-sighted in his cuts, especially to pre-kindergarten.
"The governor somehow has this belief that we're all Cosby kids, that our parents are doctors and lawyers. Those kids do great without pre-K. But poor kids don't," state Rep. Les Gara, a Democrat from Anchorage who serves on the House Finance Committee.
Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, inserted almost $1 million into the state capital budget for pre-kindergarten programs in Anchorage alone. Parnell eliminated that, "which is an irritant," French said. About 200 Anchorage pre-schoolers could have been helped, he said.Parnell also trimmed funding for statewide pre-kindergarten by $1.2 million, and cut $2.8 million from what the Legislature had budgeted for an early childhood program called Parents as Teachers -- a national model that operates outside of classroom to train parents who want the help.
The Legislature was trying to expand the programs too quickly, before the state had figured out the best direction, Parnell said.
Even with the cuts, the state will spend almost $14 million to reach young children before they hit kindergarten, an increase of 38 percent over this budget year, Parnell said. About half that is through Head Start.
Ideally, parents should be the ones teaching their young children, Parnell said.
"But I also recognize that some parents don't exercise that responsibility, and in those instances, I think it is appropriate for the state to step in. The question then becomes, how do we step in," he said.
After the vetoes, the state will spend $2.8 million on pre-kindergarten programs, an increase of $800,000, and more than $1 million on Parents as Teachers, up from $300,000, Parnell said.
In addition, Parnell cut $10 million from a $19 million boost over three years to substance abuse treatment. He left in $3 million in additional funding per year, plus $1.3 million in new money for treatment in prisons.
Parnell also sliced $1 million from $1.5 million earmarked for the private Alaska Moose Federation to rescue and relocate moose. Parnell said the group's goal of rescuing orphaned young moose is worth supporting, but not its plan to relocate adult moose, at least not without further study by the state Department of Fish and Game.
The biggest vetoed item was $50 million intended to eliminate a shortfall in a judicial retirement fund. The state has been working to address shortfalls in various retirement funds, and there is no immediate crisis in pensions for judges, the governor said.