Senate Floor Remarks from April 21, 1999
The Alaska State Senate debated the Republican-led Majority's FY 2000 operating budget [SCS CSHB 50 (FIN) (am S)] on the Senate floor on April 21, 1999. These edited remarks by Republican Senator Sean Parnell, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, followed Democrat senators' criticism of the Majority's budget reductions, and a reminder of Alaska's fiscal gap from Republican Senator Robin Taylor.
I appreciate the senator from Wrangell bringing to our attention, once again, the $1 billion-dollar fiscal gap that we Alaskans face. We have seen two very clear and contrasting visions for the state displayed on the floor of the Senate today, and played out in the halls of this building over the past two or three months. The Democratic leadership's vision is to spend more, and our vision is to spend less.
This became very evident here when my good friend and colleague from Kotzebue stood up today to say our budget didn't really include any cuts, and then he proceeded to describe the "decimating effects" of the cuts in this budget. I was trying to figure out which side he was arguing for.
We should talk today about our vision for the future, about spending less today so that we will have a future for our children. According to the numbers I see, and according to the figures from the Legislative Finance Office, this budget includes a $52 million reduction in General Fund spending. Plus, we've got $40 million or so in reductions in debt service costs on top of that, for a total of $92 million in General Fund reductions.
Yes, there are some transfers, and depending on how you look at it, there are some positions that are now being funded with federal funds rather than General Fund dollars. Yet, we are making significant spending reductions in this budget. Nobody can even debate that, especially as we have just heard the previous two speakers denounce the impact some of these cuts supposedly have.
And yet, amidst our responsibility to spend less, we are keeping our sights on our priorities. For example, in this budget we fully funded the formula foundation for kindergarten through twelfth grade education. That is fully funded for all the students across the state. The University of Alaska received a healthy increase this year over last year.
Earlier speakers today talked about spending on our children as if writing a check is the equivalent of loving them or having compassion for them. So let's talk about our investment in Alaska's children in addition to education in this budget. Daycare Assistance is increased by $1.7 million over the current fiscal year. We've added $5 million to foster care and subsidized adoptions. We fully funded Project Succeed to encourage Alaskans to open their homes to children who need a permanent home. There is a lot of new funding for children in this budget.
In the area of senior services, we funded 55 new nurse and nurse-aide positions at the six Pioneers Homes.
With respect to the tobacco settlement, we made sure the tobacco settlement funds go directly to the costs of smoking. One-point-four million dollars - a seven-fold increase over the state's current prevention efforts - are being directed at tobacco cessation and prevention programs.
Yes, we are spending less overall on state government this year, and yes, that is our vision. But when a household's income gets cut, or when someone in the household loses their job -- the first thing you do is not to go out and spend more money. When this happened in our family, the first thing that I did was to cut back on expenses. Then, yes, I did go look for other revenue. I looked for another job. The same thing is happening now in Alaska - we have taken a big cut in income. And to say at this moment that the state should be spending more -- that is a bankrupt vision for the state of Alaska.
So why are we doing this? It's pretty easy for me to personally understand. One morning last week, I came into the Senate Finance Committee room to see a picture of two little hands traced on a piece of paper, and left on the Finance Committee table. Those two little hands were drawn by our four-year-old daughter Rachel. I showed Rachel's drawing to Senator John Torgerson, my co-chair of Finance, and the next thing I know he's taping it to the Finance Committee table with a note that says, "This is why we're here."
We're not in this for the numbers. We're in this for the people, and we're in this for the future of Alaska. This is about our future and about our children's future, and if we spend more today, they won't have the kind of tomorrow that they deserve. They won't have a future of opportunity in Alaska.
So I would urge the members to vote yes on this budget, to send a strong message that this is the time to continue reductions in state spending. And, yes, it is time to use these reductions in state spending to build a long-range fiscal plan for the state of Alaska. Thank you.