House passes budget championing education

Package includes $1,300 energy relief check, in addition to $1,250 PFD

Rep. Louise Stutes and Sen. Gary Stevens listen to public comments during a town hall in Cordova on Friday, April 12, 2019. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Alaska’s House of Representatives has passed an operating budget investing heavily in the state’s education system, plus funds for essential services and to help residents recover from inflation and high energy prices.

House Bill 281, which passed on a vote of 25-14, includes a $1,300 energy relief check in addition to the $1,250 Permanent Fund Dividend.

The legislation now goes to the Alaska Senate, which has already been working on its own version of the state budget.

“Alaskans can be sure that this budget helps them now, while investing in our future,” Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said. “The Alaska Marine Highway System is fully funded, which includes $82 million in federal money that will free up state funding towards the creation of a marine highway endowment. $57 million is being added to our K-12 system, while education is being forward funded to give our schools certainty as they create their budgets next year. We’re putting over $2 billion into our savings, while paying out a $1,300 energy relief check on top of the Permanent Fund Dividend.”

“This budget helps everyone, from our children who will see increased investment in the classrooms, to our vulnerable population who will be protected by more state troopers and village public safety officers, to Alaskans in need who will receive $1,300 Energy Relief Checks,” said Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, co-chair of the House Finance Committee.

“I’ve worked hard to instill my fiscally conservative principles in this budget,” said Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River. “Paying our oil and gas tax credits incentivizes exploration in our resource-rich state and funding the fight against federal overreach will help protect our resources for future generations. Even with the increase in oil revenue, we’ve kept the state’s operation increases modest.

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Included in the House budget is:

  • $2.2 billion total will be left in the Statutory Budget Reserve, with $1.5 billion in FY22 and $657 million in FY23, helping our state prepare for a drop in revenue when the price of oil drops
  • $1.2 billion will be spent for forward funding education, which will prevent teachers from receiving pink slips and provide certainty to Alaskan families and educators that classes will start on time, with adequate funding
  • $395 million will be spent to refill the Higher Education Investment Fund, which helps Alaskan students looking to further their education, both for merit scholarships and needs-based assistance
  • The Alaska Marine Highway will be fully funded for the price of $141 million, with $82 million coming out of federal infrastructure funds. An additional $18 million will be put towards AMHS Vessel Replacement
  • $60 million will be utilized to pay the unfunded 50% of oil and gas tax credits that were not funded in FY22 due to the failed 3/4 CBR vote. $349 million will be spent to pay the state’s obligation for this fiscal year
  • $66 million will be spent on School Bond Debt & REAA to pay the 50% that wasn’t paid due to the failed 3/4 CBR vote, in addition to a $111 million for 100% of the School Bond Debt & REAA for FY23
  • The WWAMI Medical Education Program will receive a two-year appropriation of $1.6 million, helping bring more medical professionals to a wider swath of communities in Alaska
  • $2.5 million for Pre-K for two years, for a total of $5 million, giving Alaskan children entering school a head start in their learning and better preparing them for every stage of their education
  • $1.5 million for Public Broadcasting, which helps connect Alaskans across the state by providing grants to rural public radio stations that serve 20,000 people or less     
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