The House Finance Committee heard Monday, March 25, from a number of its subcommittees regarding their recommendations for FY 2020 funding.
Subcommittees closed out last week, mostly accepting small cuts and increases proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy while rejecting the largest cuts to Medicaid, the University of Alaska, and the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS).
In total, House subcommittees recommended a $38 million reduction to FY 2019 levels of unrestricted general fund (UGF) spending on agency operations.
Those subcommittee recommendations will be rolled into a committee substitute that is scheduled to be voted on and adopted by House Finance on Thursday. House Finance amendments will follow.
On Monday, the committee heard recommendations for the departments of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT), Commerce, Community, & Economic Development (DCCED), Corrections (DOC), Education & Early Development (DEED), Environmental Conservation (DEC), Fish & Game (DFG), Natural Resources (DNR), and Labor & Workforce Development (DOL), as well as the legislature and the Office of the Governor.
Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard (R-Wasilla) noted that the DOT subcommittee recommendations were $56 million higher than Dunleavy’s budget.
However, the DOT subcommittee did cut $1.2 million from FY 2019 spending.
Sullivan-Leonard did not point out that subcommittees recommended smaller budgets for DCCED, DOC, the legislature, and the Office of the Governor than Dunleavy did.
Subcommittees approved Dunleavy’s cut of $713,000 to DCCED as part of the transfer of the Economic Development component to the Office of the Governor, but they denied the corresponding $713,000 increase on the Governor’s end.
“The economic development process will go to the governor. He may do as he pleases. He has a big staff and plenty of money, in our opinion,” explained House Finance Co-chair Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole).
Wilson also reported that the executive director of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) makes $350,000 per year, not $800,000 as previously budgeted. So the DCCED subcommittee took the excess $450,000 from AGDC and gave it to the Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) to offset Dunleavy’s elimination of their grant funding.
“We thank them very much for giving us those funds, although they probably aren’t that thankful,” Wilson said of AGDC.
The DOC subcommittee recommendations are $6 million less than Dunleavy’s budget because the subcommittee rejected his plan to ship 500 inmates Outside and close the Wildwood Correctional Center.
Wilson told her colleagues the administration failed to justify either move.
“We were never shown where those inmates might go. We didn’t even have a Request for Information [RFI]. We’re not even sure where the numbers came from. But it was very concerning that we would be closing down a prison that is very successful in what they do,” Wilson said of Wildwood. “Is there a way to keep individuals here, close to their families, close to being able to have treatment, and how could we possibly get more treatment than what they would be able to do in the institution?”
Instead of sending inmates Outside, the DOC subcommittee increased funding for electronic monitoring and community residential centers, or halfway houses. The move would help DOC save $36 million over FY 2019.
The full committee will consider the remaining subcommittee reports on Tuesday, including the University and the Department of Health & Social Services (DHSS).
House Finance is taking public testimony on the operating budget Monday and Tuesday evenings.
Kodiak, Seward, Utqiagvik, Dillingham, Petersburg, Cordova, Kotzebue, Nome, and Wrangell will testify between 5:30pm and 7:30pm on Monday. Mat-Su, Kenai, Juneau, and Bethel will testify between 7:30pm and 8:30pm.
Homer, Delta Junction, Glennallen, Tok, and Valdez will testify Tuesday between 5:30pm and 7:30pm. Fairbanks, Anchorage, Ketchikan, and Sitka will testify between 7:30pm and 8:30pm.
Written testimony can be submitted to House Finance before 1pm on Wednesday by emailing email@example.com