Still no word from Legislature on school funding

The committee tasked with working out differences between the House and Senate budgets took up the Department of Education and Early Development budget Tuesday but didn’t make a decision on the line item that cuts about $48 million from K-12 education.

The Senate made the cut in K-12 funding after the House passed a fiscal year 2016 operating budget that kept it intact. The House did accept the governor’s cut of $32 million to one-time education funding for FY 2016 and $19.9 million for FY 2017.

Pre-kindergarten funding was also not decided.

The conference committee is expected to announce a decision on the funding at a meeting later this week.

The committee did decide to fund a new boarding school in Bethel and a boarding program expansion in Nenana to the tune of about $7.7 million, and cut the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program by $1 million to almost half its original size.

It also decided to pay the $5.6 million in FY 2016 rent for the Legislature’s newly renovated downtown Anchorage office, whose future has recently come into question.

A committee decided Monday night to recommend the Legislature pay for the legislative information office’s lease for the next year while it negotiates a possible purchase of the property, which will probably cost about $70 million.

Although cuts to the state’s other, smaller LIOs were anticipated going into the legislative session, and some communities feared their link to state government would be closed because of budget reductions, the conference committee decided to keep intact all funding for the state’s 23 offices.

The Senate had proposed cutting funding for LIOs outside of Anchorage by about a third.

Another issue that was not taken up by conference committee Tuesday is state employee salaries.

In its budget, the Senate reduced union employees’ salaries to eliminate the scheduled 2.5 percent increase they were contracted to receive starting in FY 2016.

The change is expected to save the state $57 million.

The conference committee approved budget bill intent language that asks the Department of Administration to re-open labor contracts. But the actual salary adjustment won’t be taken up until later this week.

The next conference committee meeting was scheduled for late Wednesday afternoon. What action the committee took was not available by the Homer News’ press time.