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Revised numbers show Legislature added $107 million to operating budget

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- When Alaska legislators approved the state operating budget a month ago, they made a point of saying they'd reached a goal of cutting the governor's spending plan by about $50 million, or 2.2 percent.

"The objective that I was given was to try to lower the governor's budget, particularly in the unrestricted general funds, to $50 million below what the governor had," House Finance Committee co-chair Alan Austerman said on April 20. "I'm quite proud to announce today that we are, on general funds, $51,382,000 below what the governor had given us. We met our objectives."

Other legislators picked up on Austerman's theme, mentioning it in press releases, newsletters, interviews and speeches. Before adjourning, Senate Finance co-chair Pete Kelly said lawmakers "met the agency reduction of $50 million that we had set out originally."

As often happens, however, those statements came before the full budget picture was clear. Legislators approved a variety of other bills during the session with a financial impact that didn't show up in the earlier arithmetic. Final numbers are still subject to change because the budgets and many other bills await Gov. Sean Parnell's signature -- and he may use his veto power.

The Alaska Constitution gives the governor 20 days, excluding Sundays, to act on budget bills. This year's budget bills were transmitted to the governor on Friday. More than 130 other bills and resolutions have yet to be transmitted. The Legislature and the governor usually cooperate by delaying that transfer to give the executive branch more time to look through the spending plan and find veto material. Budget director Karen Rehfeld said final action is expected by the end of May.

The operating budget adopted by the Legislature calls for spending $5.2 billion in unrestricted general funds. That's down about 19 percent from $6.4 billion appropriated for the fiscal year that ends in June.

One big reason for the drop is that a year ago a $630 million appropriation to state employees' retirement accounts came out of unrestricted general funds. This year a $3 billion transfer from the Constitutional Budget Reserve -- not unrestricted general funds -- was approved as a way to reduce the unfunded liability of those systems.

The governor proposed an operating budget of $5.1 billion in unrestricted general funds and $760 million in designated general funds. The operating budget adopted by the Legislature included $5.2 billion in unrestricted general funds and $772 million in designated general funds.

After the House and Senate each approved versions of the operating budget, a conference committee came back with a budget that showed a decrease of a couple of percentage points in the governor's budget. At the time, legislators figured the total was $50 million in the budget bill, later revised to $60 million.

But there were increases from new legislation that were not counted in the budget bill. Those increases totaled more than $165 million in unrestricted general funds, leading to a net increase of about $107 million in operating funds, according to the Legislative Finance Division. The cost of new legislation was not included in the end-of-the-session summary because the final numbers were not available until after adjournment.

In terms of total jobs, the state budget provides for 22,126 full time permanent positions, down from 22,188 positions in the current fiscal year. Permanent part time jobs will drop from 2,137 to 2,128. Temporary jobs will go from 714 to 678.

Federal funding is expected to drop about $20 million.

The capital budget appropriations total $2.2 billion, which includes $1.1 billion in federal funds. The deficit for fiscal year 2015 is estimated at $1.3 billion but that will change depending upon how much the governor vetoes.

Reach Dermot Cole at dermot@alaskadispatch.com.


By DERMOT COLE
dermot@alaskadispatch.com