Alaska senators worry about funding for scholarships, medical education, rural power cost equalization

The Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska, on October 19, 2017. Some Alaska senators say time is running out to fund college scholarships, medical education and making rural power costs equal to those in urban areas. (Becky Bohrer/AP Photo)
State senators in Juneau, Alaska raised alarm on Tuesday about the money swept from state budget accounts into a harder-to-access piggy bank: the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski was among those who said that if the Alaska Legislature doesn’t act soon, funds that pay for college scholarships, medical education and making rural power costs equal to those in urban areas will be gone.

“We can’t wait until August or September or October, because this is affecting Alaskans’ lives right now,” Wielechowski said on the Senate floor. “This will continue to affect Alaskans. Students are going back to school next month. Energy costs are going to skyrocket in the next couple of months for rural Alaskans. This is not something that we can delay.”

Wielechowski said the Legislature could discuss reversing the sweep of funds for these programs into the Constitutional Budget Reserve. But the Legislature would need to call itself into a special session. That’s because Gov. Mike Dunleavy has limited the focus of the current special session to paying permanent fund dividends in the amount under a nearly 40-year-old formula — roughly $3,000.

Dunleavy’s administration has said it is sweeping $2 billion from budget funds into the CBR. That’s much more than the $432 million swept last year.

David Teal, a nonpartisan budget analyst for the Legislature, said previous governors interpreted the amount that must be swept into the CBR more narrowly.

“Why would you want to sweep these funds?” Teal said. “That’s why I say not reversing the sweep is just throwing sand in the gears.”

Teal added that the Dunleavy administration “doesn’t seem to be shy about reinterpreting laws (and) policies.”

Teal also addressed one of Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes in his testimony to the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. Teal said it appeared that Dunleavy mistakenly vetoed $18.7 million more in Medicaid than the governor intended. Teal said Dunleavy apparently intended to reduce that amount in federal spending on Medicaid adult preventive dental services, but instead included it in the state cuts.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Conservative Party leader travels to Yukon, outlines vision for Northern Canada, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s new gov breezes through no-confidence vote over its agenda, Yle News

Sweden: Swedish Centre Party promises tax break for rural northerners, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska universities, health services hit hard by governor’s budget vetoes, Alaska Public Media

Andrew Kitchenman, Alaska Public Media & KTOO - Juneau

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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