Senator Berta Gardner

March 21, 2014


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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

State Capitol Bldg. Rm 417
Juneau, AK 99801
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D.C. DELEGATION

Senator Mark Begich
907-271-5915
EMAIL: Sen. Mark Begich

Senator Lisa Murkowski
907-271-3735
EMAIL: Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Congressman Don Young
907-271-5978
EMAIL: Rep. Don Young

A Peek at the Operating Budget

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senator Gardner speaks to the crowd during the Education Rally on the Capitol steps in February.
Senator Gardner with constituents Arlene Ludwig and Katherine Adcock

          The Senate is wrapping up work on Budget Subcommittees in consideration of  the operating budget.  From here on out, session will begin to move very quickly as the legislature finalizes both capital and operating budgets.

          I serve on 4 of the subcommittees, and I’ll share here what recommendations we forwarded on to the full Finance Committee.

          As you review them, please be aware that these are Senate recommendations and in some cases will be very different from those of our House counterparts.  Ultimately, a conference committee consisting of three members from each body will hash out the differences.

Health and Social Services   

          The budget for the Department of Health and Social Services is by far the biggest among state agencies. There’s some logic to that, though, as the services they provide tend to touch the lives of almost every Alaskan in one way or another.

          The Senate denied an increment for almost $8 million for Medicaid services. The Department justified this request by pointing to the “woodwork effect.” Their explanation was that with the expansion of healthcare under the Affordable Healthcare Act, people would begin coming out of the woodwork to take advantage of Medicaid. Not only did we not expand Medicaid in the state, but the Department has been asking for this since last year and wasn’t able to show a stampede of Medicaid utilizers that this money would fund.

          We funded the Complex Behavioral Collaborative which had been entirely cut in the Governor’s budget. This “hub” brings together professionals from many disciplines to  address the needs of Alaskans with a variety of complex mental and developmental disabilities. Funding this now keeps this population out of institutions and is a huge money saver in the long run.

          Finally, and probably the two  things I heard most about, were the SHARP program and substance abuse treatment programs.

          The SHARP program gives out loan repayments and direct incentives to doctors who practice in underserved areas of the state. The program was originally cut because of a lack of information, but after hearing about the successes of the program and existing contracts, Senator Olson included funds to get the program through the next couple of years.

          The House proposed a $2.43 million cut to substance abuse treatment programs.  We disagreed and kept the full funding. These programs are clearly helping Alaskans and the money saved by getting these people healthy is staggering. I’m hopeful that the Senate will fight hard for this very important funding.  

Education

          Changes made to the Education budget by the Senate were slight. Funding for the High School Graduation Qualifying exam was cut by $2.7 million as the test is being phased out. Similarly, funding for the Terra Nova Assessment is being phased out as the test is going away as well. $700,000 was also cut from the statewide mentoring program.

          I was happy to see the Senate fund the Alaska Learning Network (compared to the House which cut the full funding, essentially eliminating the program). AKLN is extremely helpful to students who don’t have direct access to highly qualified teachers or to classes which allow them to qualify for the Alaska Performance Scholarship classes.

Labor and Workforce Development

          The only significant budget item for this Department was the 41.5% cut to the Alaska Youth First Program. The program provides career-oriented training for young Alaskans through on-site internships, apprenticeships, and grants to organizations that put young Alaskans to work. I was a bit skeptical of the program, so we were able to insert intent language asking for a review of the program, financials and all, for next year’s session.

University of Alaska

          The Governor proposed a $14.9 million unallocated cut to the University system, and testimony from University President Pat Gamble was that this was acceptable to the University.  In addition, we cut an additional $1 million in unallocated funds, cuts which the University will have to determine how to institute. It is hard to argue for more funding when the University itself is not doing so.

          Budget descriptions will be exciting to only a few, but knowing that state budgets are policy translated into dollars I felt a need to describe briefly the work my budget subcommittees have done.

          Budget work will be undoubtedly more difficult in the coming years as we learn to cope with year over year deficits. I don’t relish the idea of having to make those hard decisions, but it’s what we’re sent down here to do.

          I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

          If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office

signed: Berta

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