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EDITOR, Daily News:
Last week, the Alaska House of Representatives passed a budget for the State of Alaska. As a member of the Finance Committee and the chair of the Education & Early Development, Fish & Game, and Environmental Conservation Department finance subcommittees, I am a part of the budget process from the beginning until the end. For the past month, we have dug into each department budget, asking critical questions, and analyzing impacts of potential cuts. The budget was an intense collaborative effort; we took amendments at all levels — in the subcommittees, in the full House Finance committee, and on the House floor.
We protected some of our most vital services. We restored funding to the Senior Benefits Program, which was slated to be eliminated under Gov. Dunleavy’s proposal. In public safety, we fully funded the Village Public Safety Officer program and added funds for new prosecutors and public defenders.
The Department of Fish & Game is funded at a slightly higher amount than last year’s ADF&G budget, including just shy of $1 million added for commercial fisheries management that would otherwise have been cut. In education, Pre-K and Head Start grants are funded, $30 million is forward funded for fiscal year 2021, and pupil transportation and the Base Student Allocation are both fully funded. We cut $14.5 million from the Department of Transportation — $10 million of that amount was from our Alaska Marine Highway System — which is only a fraction of the cuts proposed by the Governor.
We identified over $200 million in cuts. We cut $72.9 million in Medicaid efficiencies; $13 million to the Department of Corrections while encouraging electronic monitoring and halfway houses to avoid sending prisoners out-of-state; and $10 million to the University of Alaska. There were other cuts that I found more difficult to make. The Ocean Ranger’s Program — even though it is self-funded — was eliminated. We cut $49 million in school bond debt reimbursement, which is solely a cost shift to local communities.
The budget now goes to the Senate, and we will later compromise on differences in Conference Committee.
If you have any input on the budget — or any other legislative concerns — don’t hesitate to contact me at Rep.Dan.Ortiz@akleg.gov.
REP. DAN ORTIZ
House District 36