RE: Voting to Increase State Spending
By Rep. Dan Ortiz
March 14, 2017
Under the State’s constitution, one of the primary tasks of legislators is to adopt a capital and operating budget for the State of Alaska. As a member of the House Finance Committee, that is the most primary of my duties. It is because of these duties that I read with extreme interest the letter written by Rodney Dial and the inaccurate and misleading numbers he presented. Let’s dig into the numbers behind the budget:
If you compare the FY 18 operating budget proposed by the House with the current year budget - FY17 - total spending has been reduced by $81.7 million, of which Health & Social Services programs were reduced by $32 million. Compared to Governor Walker’s amended budget proposal, General Funds have been reduced $27.8 million.
The State agency portion of the budget has been reduced by $61.6 million.
If you compare the FY18 House budget to FY15, over the course of the last three years the budget has been reduced by $1.05 billion.
Rodney stated that... “through the amendment process the House Majority has increased the budget by 127 million and that we have already pre-spent projected added revenue measures.”
In reality, $9.23 million was added to the Governor’s budget by the House Majority through the amendment process. This includes an amendment I sponsored to restore $2.15 million to the Alaska Marine Highway System. The AMHS is vital for travel throughout Southeast. I also sponsored an amendment for one time funding for preschool programs in rural Northwest and Southwest Alaska where Moore Settlement funds had run out. The last amendment I carried was for $102 thousand to keep a state forester position in Haines. As we all know, the only lands the timber industry has access to these days are state owned; the Haines forester is responsible for making available timber sales in the northern section of S.E. Alaska. Both the timber industry and families who rely on logging for their income were happy with that amendment.
Reinstatement of pupil transportation funds cut in the Governor’s budget adds another $6.6 million, bringing the total “Agency” increase to $9.23 million.
1) The House Majority increased payout of permanent fund dividends increasing the PFD authorization by $98.1 million. The PFD amount would be increased to approximately $1,150. I don’t consider this expanded state government, but rather, a direct distribution of Alaska’s wealth to each Alaskan.
2) Accounting changes made by House Finance also bring greater truth in budgeting. For example, $58.3 million appropriated for State retirement systems – PERS/TRS – is now budgeted as Unrestricted General Fund (UGF) rather than Designated General Fund. The effect is simply to make it clear what the state is paying for in an accurate and transparent manner. Is this an increase over the Governor’s budget? No. Is it full disclosure of state payments and liabilities? Yes.
While I won’t take the time to address all 330 amendments considered in the House Finance Committee, suffice it to say that these all came after a thorough and transparent review of each budget at the subcommittee level. As chair of both the Finance Subcommittee for Department of Fish & Game and the subcommittee for Department of Education & Early Development, I sifted through those budgets with a fine-toothed comb. After careful study, I know that ADF&G amendments suggested by Representative Wilson would have devastated SE Alaska’s fisheries.
While it is important to consider all ideas as we look to streamline Alaska’s budget, there are some that are simply harmful to Alaskans and bad for our economy.
In closing, I will acknowledge that it can be easy to confuse and conflate the numbers of the budget. The legislative process, as well as the details of the frequently discussed and amended budget, can be confusing to say the least. So let’s keep talking – about the real numbers.
Received March 13, 2017 - Published March 14, 2017
About: About: Ortiz is an independent member of the Alaska House of Representatives, who has since 2015 represented the 36th District. He is the only independent in the Alaska State Legislature.
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