Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer and co-chair of the House Finance Committee, speaks Thursday on the House floor about the state’s operating budget. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer and co-chair of the House Finance Committee, speaks Thursday on the House floor about the state’s operating budget. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska House passes draft state budget amid warnings that state spending doesn’t balance

Changes during floor debate include $9M by Rep Andi Story, D-Juneau, for youth reading program.

The Alaska House of Representatives voted 23-17 on Thursday to approve a draft $12.3 billion statewide operating budget, including the 2024 Permanent Fund dividend, currently set at about $2,270 per recipient.

The vote sends the budget to the state Senate, which is expected to make significant changes because the state is expected to lack enough revenue to pay for the operating budget when combined with the state’s other budget bills and pending legislation.

The budget, House Bill 268, includes a one-time, $175 million funding boost for public schools. During two days of amendments, the House added another $9 million in an amendment by Rep. Andi Story, a Juneau Democrat, to aid K-3 students with reading, plus additional funding for school meals served to poor students.

Other amendments added $5 million in additional funding for the state’s seafood marketing organization and $5 million for statewide tourism marketing.

Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer and the budget’s chief author, said before the final vote that she wasn’t pleased with some of the late additions but believes that each legislator gave a little and got a little in the final result.

“The word of the day is compromise,” she said.

Unusually, the budget incorporated almost two dozen changes proposed by members of the House’s predominantly Democratic House minority caucus.

Despite that, all members of the minority caucus voted against it, plus Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, who is a member of neither caucus.

All members of the predominantly Republican House majority caucus voted in favor of the budget, supplying the final margin.

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, said lawmakers should feel proud of a document that doesn’t spend from savings but still manages to offer increased funding for public schools while fully funding transportation and public safety requests.

Whether the final budget will require spending from savings remains to be seen. Before the additions, a preliminary Senate estimate said the combined budget documents included a $276 million deficit. House members have disputed the accuracy of that estimate.

House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, said it’s an “open secret” in the House that lawmakers are expecting the Senate to fix the budget gap.

Rep. Donna Mears, D-Anchorage, was among the members of the minority caucus who said they opposed the final bill because it failed to address the impending Southcentral Alaska energy crunch.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham and a member of the majority, said lawmakers concerned about energy should wait for the state’s capital budget, which pays for construction and renovation projects statewide.

The Alaska Senate is scheduled to pass the first draft of the capital budget on Friday, sending it to the House for further work.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

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