By Dave Donaldson
The House today passed its version of the operating budget that will go into effect July first. But it did so leaving questions unanswered about the future of a gas line from the North Slope.
The result of the vote on the budget was never in doubt by members of either majority or minority caucuses. However, members did not solve the only serious concern by Democrats and the Parnell administration.
At issue is a last minute budget cut and contingency language put into the bill by the Finance Committee. It took away seventy percent of the money the administration wanted for work associated with the development of the gas line.
The language also held much of what was left of the money until there were “precedent agreements” – firm commitments from companies wanting to ship on the gas line.
Opponents of the move see it as a way of destroying the project coming from TransCanada and Exxon – simply by pulling money away from it.
Anchorage Democrat Harry Crawford wanted the money restored – and the language to be less binding. He said delaying the work the money would pay for would put the state a year behind in getting it done, and would jeopardize the entire project.
This is not much money. But what we’re talking about here is not just Billions, but tens of Billions, maybe hundreds of Billions over the life of this project. We need to do everything in our power to insure Alaska’s future. Now is not the time to back off. Now is not the time to slow down in our effort to get a gas pipeline.
Finance Co-Chair Mike Hawker said the committee’s action was not as serious as Crawford and other opponents made it sound. He said there is money for the administration to monitor the pipeline’s progress, and the committee’s language introduced an element of caution into the development.
We are asking in this budget, the administration to continue monitioring the development of this project. But really be ready as we assemble here next year as we always do every biudget cycle, be back here with the knowledge of whether there has been a successful open season or not successful. If it’s been successful, all the money they want is flowing. If it’s not successful, then I think we all need to sit down, regroup, talk with the administration amongst ourselves on what is the best strategy forward.
Crawford’s amendment failed with only thirteen votes in favor of it.
On final passage, the final overall budget got praise from Democrats – and only six of them voted against it. Anchorage Democrat Les Gara, a member of the Finance Committee, praised Hawker’s work in putting the plan together. He said the budget isn’t perfect, but added, that was likely the thought of all the committee members.
I think if all eleven of us on the Finance Committee wrote it ourselves, we’d come up with eleven different budgets. And I bet they’d total pretty close to the same amount of money. We’d have eleven different sets of priorities. And that’s the hard thing about writing a budget that gets twenty-one or forty votes. I think the chair of the operating budget portion of the finance committee and the other members of the finance committee did a very good job in trying to figure out how to write a budget that doesn’t just satisfy their priorities, but meets everybody’s.
The budget next goes to the Senate, where the Finance Committee there is prepared for it – already having finished its review at the subcommittee level.