Bill heading to House floor with $110M for UA, $77M for Medicaid & Senior Benefits restored

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Legislation that would reverse many of the governor’s vetoes and pay a shrunken Permanent Fund dividend will soon be debated by the Alaska House of Representatives.

HB 2001 was voted out of the House Finance Committee on Monday afternoon and was expected to be debated and amended on the House floor Tuesday. Negotiations went on behind closed doors all day Tuesday, delaying debate on the floor until Wednesday morning.

The governor cut $130 million from the University of Alaska’s budget in late June; House Bill 2001 would seek to restore $110 million of those funds.

$50 million would be restored for Medicaid along with $27 million cut for Adult Preventative Dental. The Senior Benefits Program that provides a monthly income to low-income seniors would be restored at a cost of $20 million.

The Permanent Fund dividend would be calculated after the programs had been funded. Currently, that would net a $1,605 PFD for eligible Alaskans after dipping into savings.

Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said the Alaska Senate was watching what was happening in the House closely. Leaders of the four caucuses have been meeting almost daily with the governor.

As written, the bill would require delivering a smaller PFD for more funding for state services, a calculation supported by the House majority and much of the Senate. The governor campaigned on delivering a $3,000 statutory dividend and said any smaller amount would be vetoed.

“The Governor has been clear, we should follow the law and we should distribute the Permanent Fund dividend based on the longstanding statutory formula,” said Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, by email. “That is what he called for in his proclamation on June 13th and that is what he continues to encourage in discussions and negotiations with lawmakers.”

Not all the governor’s budget vetoes were rejected by the bill passed out of the House Finance Committee. Neal Foster, D-Nome, said the Legislature would accept the 50 percent cut made to school bond debt reimbursement. The cut would impact state payments to local governments for school construction costs.

“For the State, a debt is a debt except when it’s to a local government,” said Nils Andreassen, the executive director of the Alaska Municipal League in a statement. “We understand this as a compromise relative to the rest of the overrides, which are generally consistent with what we’ve heard from members, but the reality will be that for some local governments this will still be a challenge.”

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