From left to right, three Republican minority members of the House Finance Committee: Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole; and Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage; discuss the results of Thursday’s committee meeting. (James Brooks photo | Juneau Empire)

From left to right, three Republican minority members of the House Finance Committee: Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole; and Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage; discuss the results of Thursday’s committee meeting. (James Brooks photo | Juneau Empire)

State budget fight moves to House floor

Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, called it a “reconnaissance by fire.”

If so, it ran into some thick armor plating.

This week, Republican minority members of the House Finance Committee offered hundreds of amendments to slash the state budget and help eradicate a $3 billion annual deficit. In a process that ended Thursday evening, the coalition House majority acted like a tank bouncing bullets and rejected all but a handful of those proposals.

Now, the budget fight turns to a new phase as Alaska’s 2018 spending plan advances to the House floor, and this battle won’t be over quickly.

“I wish we could say we were done with this whole fiscal crisis thing, but there’s hope on the horizon,” said Pat Pitney, director of the state Office of Management and Budget, to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at its Thursday luncheon.

Pitney offered a concise forecast for a tenacious fight over how to balance the deficit.

“We’re going to see a lot of movement over the weekend and into next week with bills moving out of one body or another,” she said.

As lawmakers try to erase Alaska’s oil-driven deficit, they’re acting on two levels. First, they have to decide what they want to spend in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Second, they have to decide how to pay for it.

On Friday morning, the House Finance Committee is expected to pass the state’s spending plan to the full House for consideration. When the House approves that budget bill, it’ll have done the first half of the first half of the Legislature’s work.

The Alaska Senate is expected to come up with its own spending plan — one with deeper cuts than the House’s version — and the House and the Senate will also have different ideas about how to pay.

On Thursday afternoon, the House Finance Committee finished grueling consideration of more than 230 cost-cutting ideas proposed by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole.

Wilson brought some of those ideas forward on behalf of other Republican lawmakers who aren’t members of the finance committee. Those lawmakers are expected to stump for their cost-cutting proposals on the floor next week.

Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, offered 17 budget amendments in committee. She’s already prepared 10 amendment proposals for the House floor, she said late Thursday.

“I would expect that you’ll see things come back to the floor,” she said.

Tilton said minority Republicans wanted to “actually show the public there was some places there could be true reductions” to the budget.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage and vice-chairman of the finance committee, said many of the amendments offered by minority Republicans were malformed and wrong, taking money where it didn’t actually exist.

While most amendments were defeated, some ideas with Southeast impact were accepted in committee and are advancing to the floor.

On behalf of Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, introduced an amendment restoring funding for a state forester position in Haines.

That amendment passed, as did one offered by Ortiz to boost Alaska Marine Highway System funding by $2.1 million.

The House Finance Committee is scheduled to meet at 8:30 a.m. Friday to approve a final version of the budget. If all goes as planned, that version will be read onto the floor Friday morning, allowing full debate to begin Monday.

 


 

Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.

 


 

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