Legislature could add funds for education, prioritize megaprojects

With less than a month until the end of the state’s legislative session, increasing discussion of the state budget is inevitable.  Members of both the House and Senate, as well as Governor Parnell, have made it clear that this budget year will be tight.  Cuts to a number of state programs have already been considered, and much of the discussion of the state’s operating budget is winding down.

In a major development on Friday, the Senate Finance Committee voted to add an additional $75 million dollars for education beyond what Governor Parnell had requested.  Now, the total number for education is $100 million.  Senator Pete Kelly, Co-Chair of the Finance Committee says the increase does not represent the final word on education funding.

“We want, as a group, to figure out education.  We may need some time to do that.  This amendment gives us time, while we are not putting the school districts too far out on a limb as we make our determination.”

Soon, the discussion will shift to capital projects in Senate Finance.  Prioritization of megaprojects is likely to take up a major part of the discussion.  Senate Minority Leader Hollis French says it’s time for the state to decide what it can follow through on.

“When’s the state going to sit down and make some hard decisions about the many megaprojects we’re nibbling away at and not finishing any of?  This nibbling has now gotten up to almost a billion dollars we’ve spread across ten big projects–road projects, mostly, but also the in-state bullet line, the former Trans-Canada line to the Lower 48, and of course Susitna-Watana and others.”

Senator Kevin Meyer, who co-chairs the Finance Committee and deals with many capital project issues, says much the same, and that there are some projects that need to take immediate priority.  Neither the majority or minority caucuses have strongly committed to which megaprojects they will champion.

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