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Story Last modified at 8:47 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Local House members explain capital budget battle in Juneau

Reps. Fairclough, Saddler, Stoltze

This week, Alaska Reps. Anna Fairclough (R-Eagle River), Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River) and Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak/Mat-Su) share their views of the Legislative session and the budget battle under way in Juneau.

Recent headlines may have readers of the Alaska Star wondering what is really going on in the State Capitol in Juneau. Because the legislative process isn't always easy to understand, we'd like to offer some insights and background about what is going on, and why.

The first 90-day session of the 27th Legislature came to a close Sunday night in a historic way. The House of Representatives asked the governor to adjourn the session because we could not agree with the Senate on an adjournment time. While this is the first time in Alaska history this has happened, Article 2, Section 10 of the Alaska Constitution clearly gives the governor the authority take this significant action when necessary.

The Legislature's primary constitutional duty is to pass an operating budget to fund ongoing governmental services. In Alaska, the House drafts an operating budget and sends it to the Senate for amendment, and then both bodies negotiate a final version. These final negotiations are ongoing. Other legislative activities – passing bills or resolutions, conducting audits, making capital expenditures – are discretionary, driven by the will of the voters and subject to limitations of time and resources.

One of the most important such activities is the capital budget, a prized piece of legislation that allocates state money for building projects. We recognize how important it is to pass a capital budget to fund construction projects across the state, support better schools for our children, and provide an overall element of security for our families.

Having worked hard to maintain a responsible level of spending in the state operating budget, we also know that our Chugiak and Eagle River communities have real capital needs, which we can afford to address during these times of surplus.

The capital budget is at the center of this end-of-session contention. In a reverse of operating budget procedure, the Senate traditionally drafts a capital budget, and sends it to the House for amendment. The House of Representatives has done all that it can within the rules of our house to finish our business within the 90-day limit. But the Senate has sought to use those rules against us. They have declined to pass its capital budget, and assumed they could wait up to 121 days to force us to accept a plan we could not support. This impasse required the governor to adjourn both bodies, and call us back for a special session of no more than 30 days.

While there are significant disagreements between the House and Senate, it was impressive that leaders of both bodies have not disparaged each other personally. Despite the tensions that sometimes arise when 60 different personalities are hard at work and far from home, all agree that our differences are based on principles, not personalities. We must remember that respecting each other, the process, the institution and the people of Alaska should be our focus.

The events of last weekend should give us renewed respect for those who wrote Alaska's Constitution. While they couldn't envision the exact circumstances in which a governor might need to end a session, the Framers had the foresight to provide the authority to that office in times of great need. This has allowed the state to address even this most serious impasse in an orderly manner, and with due respect for both the executive and legislative branches of government.

As your voice in the House of Representatives, we will continue to fight for what we believe is best for our communities, and we thank you for your continued support and feedback through this process. This legislative session can still have a successful ending, and we look forward to seeing you at home in Chugiak-Eagle River, sooner rather than later.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, April 20, 2011.