Dec. 11, 2020 — In this recording, Alaska Press Club members heard from Tim Bradner, co-owner of the Alaska Legislative Digest, and Larry Persily, UAA’s Atwood Chair of Journalism. The pair discussed where the money comes from that is so heavily debated during session, as well as pitfall journalists should avoid while covering the state budget.
“One question that I’ve heard since I started covering the legislature in the mid-80s is ‘What numbers do you use?’ There’s total budget, general fund, unrestricted general fund,” Persily said. “My argument is in reporting and in talking to the public, the only number that counts is the general fund: that’s the money you can argue over, that’s the money they fight over, that’s the money they trade over.”
Restricted money is anticipated state revenue that has been appropriated by the Legislature to pay for the same program that generated the revenue. Unrestricted revenue has not been appropriated by the Legislature for a specific program. It may be used for any purpose. This is the money legislators argue over each session. The general fund is the state’s primary operating fund. It is used to account for all financial resources except those required to be accounted for in another fund.
“Budgets are really policy documents because they are value statements by the legislature on what’s important and what isn’t important, in a time of scarce resources — money — which is where we are right now,” Bradner said. “When people make decisions on how much money to spend on state troopers, public safety, schools, education — that’s kind of where the rubber meets the road.”
Gov. Dunleavy released his budget in mid-December, proposing nearly $5,000 in PFD payments and a special election to guide dividend’s future. This year’s session will convene Jan. 19.
“Constitutionally, what really matters is the legislature appropriates funds, and the legislature decides based on how much money is available on where the money should go. That’s almost despite what statutes say,” Bradner said.
Both Bradner and Persily recommended following Gavel to Gavel to stay up-to-date with the Legislature this upcoming session.
SESSION TIME FRAME:
In early December, the Department of Revenue released its fall/winter revenue forecast.
In mid-December, Gov. Dunleavy released his budget for the following fiscal year (FY2022).
On Jan. 19, the Alaska Legislature convenes for the 2021 session. House and Senate Finance Committees form subcommittees for each agency budget.
In early to mid-February, Gov. Dunleavy will submit his budget amendments.
In mid-March, the House Finance Committee finalizes its version of the budget, holds public hearings and sends the budget to the Senate.
In late March, the Senate takes up the operating budget while subcommittees work on the Senate-version of the operating budget.
In April, the Senate produces its version of the capital budget and sends it to the House.
In early to mid-May, the House-Senate operating budget conference committee forms, meets to reconcile differences.
Missed Tim and Larry’s session? You can watch the full video here.