Legislature(2001 - 2002)

03/18/2002 01:38 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= 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.                                                                                                                        

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