Legislature passes budget with one-year school funding increase

The 33rd Alaska Legislature came to a shuddering but active end early Thursday morning, May 16, as lawmakers passed the state’s annual budget and several high-profile bills.

While legislators met their short-term goals, they didn’t hit some lawmakers’ big targets, including a long-term plan to bring state finances into order, significant changes to the state education system or a revival of a pension program for public employees.

While the budget includes a one-time increase in K-12 school funding, legislators didn’t permanently raise the per-student school funding formula, known as the base student allocation.

The state Senate adjourned at 11:47 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, shortly before the Legislature’s midnight deadline, but the House continued working, passing five bills in the first 15 minutes after the deadline despite questions about whether it was legal to do so.

House members continued debating an elections bill, without success, adjourning shortly before 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

The last 90 minutes soured what had been a productive day for lawmakers, who passed dozens of bills before adjourning. Those will be transmitted to Gov. Mike Dunleavy in the coming weeks and months, and the governor may veto them, sign them into law, or allow them to become law without his signature.

The biggest bill to pass the Legislature was the state’s annual operating budget, a $6 billion document that funds state services for the 12 months beginning July 1. If federal and fee-funded programs are included, the budget exceeds $11.3 billion.

A separate capital budget for construction and renovation projects, passed earlier this month, includes more than $4 billion in federal and state spending.

That spending bill includes $5 million for work to stabilize the earthen dams that hold Wrangell’s water reservoirs and $200,000 to start planning an access route between the southern end of Zimovia Highway and the Spur Road on the back channel.

Dunleavy may eliminate or reduce items in either budget using his line-item veto power.

The operating budget includes a Permanent Fund dividend estimated at $1,655 per recipient.

It also includes $175 million in one-year funding for K-12 public schools, and additional one-time increases for pupil transportation and reading efforts for children in kindergarten through third grade.

The school funding provision would send about $440,000 to Wrangell schools, covering about two-thirds of the district’s projected budget deficit for the 2024-2025 school year.

Because unpassed legislation dies at the end of the two-year legislative cycle, the last day was filled with maneuvering that saw bills combined into one another in an attempt to secure passage.

The result was frequently arcane and sometimes bizarre. In one case, a bill extending the state’s marijuana control board was merged with at least five other pieces of legislation, ultimately becoming something that offers businesses a tax credit if they spend money on education.

A bill that requires schools to stock overdose reversal drugs was amended with a compromise measure to stabilize correspondence education programs after a court ruling struck down parts of state law governing the spending of financial allotments distributed through the program. More than 22,000 students are enrolled in the programs.

Lawmakers passed an omnibus crime bill built around Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposal to increase penalties for fentanyl and methamphetamine dealers.

Among its many provisions, the bill directs the state to look into why minority groups are overrepresented in state prisons and make recommendations to reduce the number of people who commit crimes after being released from prison.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com


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