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Parnell makes smallest budget vetoes of term

Associated Press Modified: May 14, 2012 at 8:31 pm •  Published: May 14, 2012

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Sean Parnell signed state budgets totaling $12.1 billion on Monday after making $66.6 million in vetoes, the smallest cuts of his term and a figure he attributed to lawmakers sticking to a spending limit he'd set.

In a speech to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Parnell thanked lawmakers for their work. His conciliatory tone came after a contentious special session that saw his plan to lower oil taxes pummeled before he ultimately pulled it from the session's agenda.

He said budgets are defined by sound investments in infrastructure, education, public safety and energy.

At the urging of Parnell, House and Senate leaders worked to keep capital spending around the same level as the current fiscal year and wound up just over that amount, at $2.9 billion. That figure includes some spending for this fiscal year. Capital items for next year alone total $2.8 billion, Parnell's budget director Karen Rehfeld said. That's the same as this year.

Parnell also signed an $8.9 billion operating budget. With fund transfers and savings, the package totals $12.1 billion.

Parnell in 2010 cut more than $300 million in proposed spending, and in 2011 more than $400 million — a record — from what he considered to be bloated budgets.

The bulk of the vetoed funding this time — $50 million — came from a one-time lump sum payment to the Judicial Retirement System that Parnell said he didn't deem prudent in light of financial and economic considerations. He said the budgets honored annual payments to public employees, teachers and the judicial retirement systems.

The Republican governor also cut additional funding of about $2.2 million for pre-kindergarten grants and a pilot program expansion, and $10.3 million for a substance abuse treatment program.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said he wasn't happy with those cuts.

"The governor should be cutting waste, but he cut opportunity instead," Gara said.

The spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1, includes an increase of about $3.9 million, or 38 percent, in funding for early learning programs, according to the administration.

In budget documents, the administration said the $4 million approved by lawmakers for pre-kindergarten grants represented a 47 percent increase over the current year. Parnell reduced that figure to $2.8 million and scrapped the $973,000 proposed to expand a pre-K pilot project.

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