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After a marathon on amendments, Alaska House passes budget 22-17

JUNEAU — The Alaska House on Monday passed a budget for the state's next fiscal year, approving the $4.25 billion unrestricted general fund spending plan in a 22-17 vote.

The split was along caucus lines, with all the members of the predominantly Democratic majority coalition in favor, and the Republican minority opposed. Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, was excused.

The vote came after a week of debate, with more than 100 amendments proposed mostly by Republican minority members.

The budget is $6.5 million, or two-tenths of 1 percent higher than the preliminary spending plan for state agencies offered by Gov. Bill Walker. The Senate is expected to propose significant reductions and has already introduced proposals to cut state ferries, health programs and the university system.

The House's budget proposal relies largely on the investment earnings of the $57 billion Permanent Fund instead of the Constitutional Budget Reserve — the savings account lawmakers used to cover the state's multibillion-dollar deficit for the past two years.

The use of the Permanent Fund meant the spending plan could pass with a simple majority Monday, rather than the three-fourths majority needed to crack open the CBR — a threshold that took lawmakers months of extra time to meet in 2015 and 2016.

But this year's budget bill's so-called "effective date clause" — which requires a two-thirds majority, or 27 votes in the 40-member House — did fail Monday when all but one member of the Republican minority, Anchorage GOP Rep. Chuck Kopp, voted against it.

That could cause problems if the minority doesn't change its mind and the Senate returns the budget to the House for a final vote. Without an effective date clause, legislation doesn't take effect until 90 days after being signed by the governor.

The state's fiscal year starts July 1, and the budget is not usually approved until mid-April or later — well within 90 days of the start of the next fiscal year.

Kopp, a former legislative aide, voted against the budget. But he said he voted for the effective date clause because it's typically uncontroversial — a view echoed by other longtime Juneau observers.

"It's not something to fight about," Kopp said.

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