Alaska House passes operating budget with $200M in cuts

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — The Alaska House of Representatives has passed an operating budget for FY2020 with around $200 million in cuts, rejecting most of the deep cuts sought by Gov. Dunleavy in his proposed austerity budget.

The budget passed Thursday afternoon in a 24-14 vote along caucus lines, with Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue, and Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, excused.

Thursday's floor session began with heated debate about whether a final vote for the budget should proceed. The House Minority argued that the House should continue debating amendments to the budget before advancing to a final vote.

Many House Minority members argued that their voices hadn’t been heard with proposed amendments still to be read.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, the co-chair of the House Finance Committee, argued vigorously against that position, saying everyone had their chance to have a voice through the subcommittee and committee processes.

A vote to return the operating budget to a second reading — the phase for introducing and debating amendments — failed. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, was the only member of the House Majority Coalition who voted against caucus lines in favor of the motion.

Many of the amendments that weren’t heard addressed the Permanent Fund Dividend according to multiple House Minority members. The House Majority has argued that the dividend should be debated separately from the budget as part of its own legislation.

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Anchorage, the co-chair of the House Finance Committee, argued that “a long passionate debate” should take place over the size of the PFD separate from the budget.

Debate then turned to the final budget document itself.

Foster defended the $200 million in cuts that were made, saying they were significant reductions that still protected core services. He said the priority for the House Majority was protecting education funding.

Minority Leader Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said he was frustrated that the remainder of the budget amendments hadn’t been heard and that deeper cuts weren’t made. He called the bill a “status quo” budget.

One by one, House Minority members stood in opposition to the budget passing through the House.

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, spoke passionately saying, “I am disappointed in my colleagues” about the size of the budget passed.

Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, spoke in favor of the budget saying it “put us on a diet” and that there was a still a long journey ahead before the budget’s final passage.

He predicted it would continue to change and shrink as it moves through the Senate.

The operating budget now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.

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