May 18, 2007
"Although we've invested $1.7 billion total funds across Alaska with the passage of this bill, because we are such a vast and young state, there are still more wants and needs out there than we have the revenue to fund," House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage) said. "Our Department of Transportation alone tells us that they have more than $10 billion in projects back-logged. Alaska is a young state, with many infrastructure needs, and this spending package is a responsible one that addresses as many of those needs that we can manage and sustain."
The budget invests $583 million in general funds, $789 million in federal funds, and $414 million in other funds on projects ranging from roads, transportation and other infrastructure, to school auditorium restoration, safety and technology upgrades, and field enhancement for schools. In addition to the construction and maintenance, the budget includes $45 million to implement a quarter of the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social & Economic Research (ISER) school funding study and other school improvement grants, on top of another quarter funding of the ISER study in the operating budget.
"One of our highest priorities is to provide our children with the opportunity to get a good education," Meyer said. "We worked hard to come up with a compromise to change the education formula and have agreed to continue working through the summer on that issue. It's a win-win for all, not us, but all children.
"When you add up all of the pieces that we have in the operating and capital budgets for K-12 education, I would say that this has been the single largest increase both into the classroom and to K-12 in Alaska's history."
The House passed, and the Senate concurred, in adding $185 million for PERS/TRS system relief for municipalities, boroughs and unincorporated communities based on a 78-percent state share, 22-percent local share for PERS, and a 87.5 percent, 12.5-percent breakdown for TRS.
"We all know that the public employee and teacher retirement system lodes have been a huge issue this year, and will continue to be in the near future. To help our school districts across the state, we've paid down their TRS from 54-percent to 12.5-percent, funding $281.5 billion," Meyer said. "That action alone will push more than $77 million back into the classroom, where the funds can do the most good for Alaska children.
"Adding up what we've appropriated for education this session, that's a $350-million increase for education in just one year, pushing our state share to $1.2 billion."
The final major change to the capital budget came with the addition of $48.2 million for revenue sharing to communities based on population, a contentious issue that leadership from both the House and Senate came to agreement on late in the evening Tuesday. The Legislature also approved a $50 million deposit into the constitutional budget reserve, a savings account in the state treasury, which the Legislature can approve in times of deficit, but is constitutionally bound to repay when able.
"While the number is high in comparison to recent budgets with the exception of last year's, we believe this is a responsible capital budget that takes care of many of the needs across our great state," Meyer said. "We had to make some tough choices, especially on revenue sharing, education, and PERS/TRS, but we have given the Senate and governor's office our word that we will work towards sustainable and long-term fixes over the interim and during the next legislative session."
"With the $1 billion forward-funded for education next year, we've spent significantly less compared to last year, in the range of $630 million, by making sound and fair choices to keep moving our state forward."
The capital budget will be transmitted to the governor for review and signature, which must occur before July 1, the end of the FY 07 fiscal year.
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