Legislature gets one step closer to adjournment

The Alaska House and Senate this morning (Friday) gave their final approvals to the negotiated operating budget for next fiscal year.

The plan as approved by a joint conference committee on Wednesday,  spends a total of $9 billion – $5.7 billion of it in state general funds.  Besides taking care of the day-to-day operations of state government,  that spending also includes setting money aside for such things as this year’s permanent fund dividends,   providing money for new state employee union contracts,  and substantially increasing the Power Cost Equalization Endowment.

Conference Committee chairman Bill Thomas of Haines said the differences between the House and Senate bills started with more than 280 differences that had to be resolved.

The budget passed with no opposition in the House and with only one vote against it in the 
Senate – as minority leader Charlie Huggins objected to cuts to the newly constructed Goose Creek Prison in his district.  The budget only pays for interest on the loans,  the cost of utilities and basic security services.  Huggins said the prison project was finished under budget and ahead of schedule and he wants to see progress toward putting it into operation.

The budget next goes to the governor for final action.  Meanwhile, the legislature will return to the capitol on Monday to continue to work out the capital projects budget. (thanks to Dave Donaldson in Juneau)

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