Legislature(2001 - 2002)
03/18/2002 01:38 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SJR 37-CONST AM: HIRING FREEZE SENATOR PETE KELLY, sponsor of SJR 37, said the measure will give the legislature the authority to require the governor to institute a hiring freeze if the legislature determines one is necessary. Without that constitutional authority, the legislature is unable to because of the separation of powers doctrine; SJR 37 provides that authority. Currently the new budget contains 858 new employees, according to the Division of Legislative Finance. The Administration has argued that number and revised it downward to 500 plus, but either number represents a large number of new employees being added to the budget when the state is facing a gap between revenues and expenditures. He said he is not trying to place blame, as legislators may be responsible for some of those employees; it is the nature of doing business and trying to keep up with federal programs. The purpose of SJR 37 is to provide a tool so that the nature of business can be structurally changed and the people's branch of government can have more impact into the size and scope of the budgets that have been offered in recent years. Should this constitutional amendment pass, it will have no impact on this Administration but will give future legislators a tool to reduce state budgets if they find themselves with an Administration that is unwilling to take proactive steps to do so. SENATOR KELLY informed members that in prior testimony on another resolution that encourages the governor to institute a hiring freeze, he has been asked how much this resolution will save and to justify it. He said the fact is he does not know how much it will save but hiring freezes are one of those self-evident truths in businesses. He believes those who are against a hiring freeze should justify their opinions of why this tool shouldn't be offered. SENATOR COWDERY asked if a [joint] resolution needs a simple majority vote to pass. SENATOR KELLY said that does and noted that the purpose behind that is that the legislature is the policy maker yet, because of the strict separation of powers rules in Alaska, the legislature is sometimes not able to implement policy when it comes to budgetary issues. It should be the will of the legislature to do so without having to go through the bill process, which is why he introduced this measure as a resolution. He does not want the measure to be vetoed or to go through a fight on the floor. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said he learned while watching a television show that 46 states are facing deficit budgets. He said he has been shocked to see the numbers the Alaska legislature is looking at today and the lack of any attention to any type of reductions or prioritizations by departments. TAPE 02-9, SIDE B CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said he finds it hard to believe the other 45 governors are crazy because they are trying to reduce their budgets. Several states have imposed both hiring freezes and restrictions on travel. He recalled that Governor Sheffield actually impounded funds and was chastised for it, but that was his attempt to do everything he could during a deficit the state faced in 1986. He maintained that he will be shocked if the legislature will ever have to impose a hiring freeze in the future. He then asked Senator Kelly if he is aware of any other state that doesn't use this type of a tool. SENATOR KELLY said he does not know who does or doesn't, but he included in members' packets a copy of Governor Locke's recent memo that imposes a hiring freeze. He agreed with Senator Taylor that governors all over the United States have gone into "high gear" to deal with deficit problems. He said Alaska is more fortunate in that it does have some money in the bank and a smaller government so it has the ability to get its hands around the problem but it can't if it won't institute something as simple as a hiring freeze, which does no damage to current employees. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR said Washington State is only facing a $1.6 billion deficit in a much larger budget. SENATOR KELLY said Washington's total budget is $23 billion. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR noted Alaska is facing a 43 or 46 percent deficit. SENATOR ELLIS asked if Senator Kelly's measure applies only to general funds and whether he found anyway to go after positions funded by other sources, such as fees or airport funds. He then SENATOR KELLY'S response was inaudible. SENATOR ELLIS said that many government positions are funded with a combination of funds. He asked if all positions that are funded with any general funds will be covered under this freeze. SENATOR KELLY said he would imagine those details will be defined in statute by a future legislature, which would then institute a freeze by resolution when need be. SJR 37 merely gives the authority, it does not provide the specifics. SENATOR ELLIS asked if Senator Kelly's point is that the details can be dealt with later and worked out in statute. SENATOR KELLY said before a statute would be of any value at all, the Constitution will have to be amended. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR felt that Senator Ellis raised a good point as the words "general fund" are not in the resolution and said he found the answer to be fascinating. He asked, "Has the subterfuge of the words 'other funds' now carried with it enough authority that if your position was funded by 'other funds' that that somehow isn't general funds?" He said that attaching that kind of definition worries him. SENATOR KELLY said that is possible and acknowledged that he did not understand Senator Ellis's question at first. He explained that SJR 37 merely provides the legislature with authority at a later date, it does not specify which funds. SENATOR COWDERY moved SJR 37 to its next committee of referral with individual recommendations. SENATOR ELLIS objected. CHAIRMAN TAYLOR announced the motion carried with Senators Cowdery, Therriault and Taylor voting in favor, and Senator Ellis opposed.