Senators Can Reverse Ill-Conceived Cuts by Adopting Houses Fully Funded Budget
House Majority Confirms Commitment to Roll Back Dangerous Proposed Budget Cuts
Juneau – Members of the Alaska House Majority Coalition are responding to attempts by members of the Senate Majority and House Minority to shift blame to the administration of Alaska Governor Bill Walker for a dangerous budget cut to Alaska Pioneer Homes.
The budget passed by the Senate and voted for by many members of the House Minority included a $6.5 million cut to the line item for the Alaska Pioneer Homes. If approved, that budget cut would force the closure of possibly two Pioneer Homes.
“The Senate Majority is playing a losing game by forcing through a dangerous cut to Pioneer Homes and then trying to blame Governor Walker when the impact of the cut became known,” said House Finance Committee member Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks). “We have been saying since day one that willy-nilly budget cuts come with consequences. Even after working on their budget cuts for months, the Senate could find no place to better allocate another $6.5 million reduction than on the backs of Alaska seniors. The Senate Majority and House Minority might think they are winning some kind of political game by claiming they tried to make cuts and were stymied, but in reality they are playing with people’s lives.”
Governor Walker’s administration has taken the only responsible course by notifying residents of the Palmer and Juneau Pioneer Homes and their families that the homes face closure if the budget reduction proposed by the Senate Majority is left in place. The version of the budget passed by the House funds Pioneer Homes at the level requested by Governor Walker to ensure all six Pioneer Homes remain open.
Senators have the opportunity to recede from their ill-conceived cuts to Pioneer Homes, community health centers, and education by adopting the fully-funded budget from the House on a simple majority vote. However, it is likely working out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the operating budget will be the task of a Conference Committee made up of members of both bodies that represent the Majority and Minority Caucuses.
“In the Senate, the Majority members vote as a block on the budget, so it’s possible members did not know what they were voting on when they passed a budget that threatens to evict seniors and elders from their home,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage). “They should insist the cut be removed from consideration immediately. It would also be helpful if the Senate Majority decided to forego the practice of just throwing unallocated cuts into the budget. Such a practice is lazy and, as we have seen over the last few days, fraught with unintended consequences to Alaskan families.”
The Alaska House of Representatives voted Tuesday by a margin of 30-10 not to concur with the changes to the operating budget passed by the State Senate. The rejected changes included the $6.5 million cut to Pioneer Homes. Members who chose to support the irresponsible cuts in the Senate version of the budget, including the cut to Pioneer Homes, were Reps. Birch, Chenault, Johnston, Knopp, Millett, Pruitt, Saddler, Talerico, Thompson, and Wilson.
State funding for Pioneer Homes is $62.2 million in the current fiscal year and Governor Walker proposed a slight increase to $62.6 million in FY 2018. Governor Walker’s suggestion for Pioneer Homes funding was included in the version of the operating budget that passed the Alaska House.
The Alaska House Majority Coalition is disappointed that 10 members of the House Republican Caucus actually voted to concur with the Senate budget and its targeted cuts to vulnerable seniors and K-12 education, which will equate to the discharge of about 700 teachers across the state.
For more information, please contact Alaska House Majority Coalition Press Secretary Mike Mason at (907) 444-0889.