James Brooks | Juneau Empire From left to right, Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage; Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer; and Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome; discuss budget matters in a conference committee meeting Thursday morning, June 8, 2017 in the Alaska State Capitol.

James Brooks | Juneau Empire From left to right, Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage; Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer; and Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome; discuss budget matters in a conference committee meeting Thursday morning, June 8, 2017 in the Alaska State Capitol.

Lawmakers compromise on budgets for corrections, law

Anchorage will get two new state prosecutors, but Bethel is out of luck under a compromise budget for the Alaska Department of Law drafted Thursday.

The Alaska Legislature’s budget conference committee met Thursday morning in a brief gathering to settle differences in the budgets for the state departments of law and corrections. The meeting is part of an overall effort by the Legislature to compromise different budgets passed by the House and Senate. If that compromise can be done by July 1, it would avert a statewide government shutdown.

Lawmakers would also have to find a way to pay for the budget.

The conference committee, which consists of three members of the House (two majority, one minority) and three members of the Senate (two majority, one minority) agreed Tuesday on budgets for the departments of commerce and administration.

The budgets being considered this week are relatively small, and the differences between the House and Senate versions are also small. For the Department of Corrections, the difference was only $721,200. In the Department of Law, the difference was about $2 million. Both figures were provided by the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division.

Thursday’s concurrence will guarantee some cuts to both departments.

For the Department of Corrections, the agreement means a budget cut of about $6.5 million from the current fiscal year. Much of that reduction comes because the Legislature is planning to cut Permanent Fund Dividends, and the department will be able to garnish less money from convicts’ PFDs.

In the Department of Law, the cut is about $800,000. It had been higher, but the House asked for additional money to add two prosecutors in Anchorage and one in Bethel. The conference committee’s agreement funds 75 percent of the cost of the two Anchorage prosecutors (lawmakers expect the positions will take some time to be filled) and does not fund the Bethel prosecutor, even though Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, is chairman of the Senate half of the budget conference committee.

Speaking Thursday, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer and House chairman of the conference committee, said the group will continue its work Friday by addressing the departments of military and veterans affairs, public safety, revenue and judiciary, plus executive-branch-wide appropriations.

All of those budgets are expected to be relatively uncontroversial.

The budgets with the biggest difference between the House and Senate are those for education, the University of Alaska, public health and transportation.

Negotiations on those budgets will be difficult, and the Legislature must still find a way to pay for state operations past July 1.

Furthermore, the agreements brokered by the conference committee must still be approved by both halves of the Legislature. If either the House or the Senate fails to agree with the compromise budget, negotiators will go back to the table.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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