Senate passes operating budget - Must Read Alaska
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Monday, September 20, 2021
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Senate passes operating budget

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After just four days of deliberation, the Alaska Senate has passed an operating budget for 2019, the fiscal year that starts in July.

The Senate’s budget totals $3.2 billion in unrestricted general funds for agency and statewide operations, but add another $1.28 billion passed in an education funding bill earlier this month, for a total of $4.48 billion. This doesn’t include federal funds and other general funds.

The operating budget also appropriates over $1 billion to pay eligible Alaskans a $1,600 Permanent Fund dividend.

“This budget provides for the services Alaskans rely on in their everyday lives,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel) co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “We need to come together this year to provide fiscal stability and protect the Permanent Fund.”

The House and Senate budgets largely diverged on spending for Medicaid and debt payments for oil and gas tax credits.

The Senate’s budget reduced Medicaid spending by $60 million and directed the administration to manage the program costs better.

It also includes an additional $135 million to meet the state’s legal obligation to pay down outstanding debt related to oil and gas tax credits.

“The Senate prioritized the state’s constitutional obligations in this budget,” said Sen. Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River) co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.  “In order to reduce the size of government, we must actively pursue legislative reforms.”  

The budget draws $600 million from the Constitutional Budget Reserve; the CBR vote passed with all Democrats voting against it except Hoffman.

“This budget represents another step toward fiscal certainty for Alaska,” said Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks). “It’s a tremendous amount of work to put a state’s budget together and I congratulate and thank every one of my colleagues in the Senate for the work they have done.”

HB 286 passed the Senate by a vote of 13 to 7 and is now on its way to the Alaska House of Representatives for concurrence.

The House had passed a larger budget: $3.9 billion with just unrestricted general fund money, plus an unknown amount of education spending, since the education bill sent to the Senate had no funds attached to it. But with the education funds decided on by the Senate, the House’s budget would be $5.18 billion.

A conference committee will be hammering out the differences between the two budgets.


Gov. Bill Walker had asked for a $4.7 billion budget, including $27 million more for Medicaid expansion since enrollment in Medicaid is up 35 percent since he took office.

  • In FY 2015, Medicaid covered 163,388 people.
  • By  FY 2017, 218,385 enrolled
  • In FY 2019, the governor is expecting more than 225,000 to be enrolled, which is over one third of Alaska’s population.

The additional 6,615 people that will enroll in Medicaid will be covered by the $27 million increase, amounting to over $4,000 per new enrollee. However, it’s also likely the governor will come back for a supplemental budget request of $100 million to cover more Medicaid expenses.

The entire Democratic minority caucus, with the exception of Sen. Lyman Hoffman, voted against drawing $600 million from the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who casts himself as the protector of the Permanent Fund Dividend, voted against it because he wanted to spend more money. If he would have gotten his way, the draw upon the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account would have been at least $600 million more.

Sens. Shelley Hughes and Mike Shower voted in favor of the Constitutional Budget Reserve draw, just as former Sen. Mike Dunleavy had done last year — objecting to the spending but in the end voting to allow the funding formula. The two differ from the majority caucus over the size of the budget and the size of the Permanent Fund dividend.

The Senate budget calls for a 5.25 percent draw on the Earnings Reserve Account, the same as proposed by the House, and a $1,600 Permanent Fund dividend.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Perpetuating a limited understanding of the budget by not sharing the full cost of government is a sad practice. The UGF are the funds used to primarily and actually physically maintain and/or improve infrastructure (and sometimes create) in Alaska.

    The more the legislature ignores the administrative budget, the less we believe their numbers. Participating in that limited view and not working to eliminate the high cost of overhead in Alaska’s fiscal plan is ostrich-like behavior.

  • What a nightmare.
    It is now obvious that the Legislature is incapable of making fiduciary responsible decisions and that it will take a court case to force the Legislature to re-pay the CBR and end the Dividend (as we know it).

  • While trying to be respectful Mr Nyman, the Permanent Fund and the dividend are not the government’s money – and the dividend is not a welfare program that the government hands out. Only 50% of the Fund’s annual earnings after inflation proofing belong to the CBR and are available for congressional appropriation. The rest belongs to the people of Alaska. Read Jay Hammond’s work on this. The answer to the State’s fiscal woes are really quite simple: FILL THE PIPE and CUT THE SIZE OF TE BUREAUCRACY. For Gov Walker to be screaming for more taxes while simultaneously opening 44 new positions in health & human services is a betrayal of the people of Alaska.

  • What this all boils down to is “No Political expert can out think the bankers in control of our money….the real reason we Alaskans aren’t getting our full dividend is pressure from wall street and the bankers in control NO ONE else could have twisted our Governor and the Legislatures arms not you me or the Oil Companies… Not even the Unions they all are just the pawns in this financial world of corruption…. Not a single word lately form Standard & Poor’s What Saps we all are!”

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