- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The House Finance Committee on Tuesday cut advertising funding for an anti-obesity program and rebuffed a Democratic-led effort to boost education funding, concluding that was a decision for another day.

The committee is putting the finishing touches on its version of the state operating budget, and plans to take a look at the overall amended package on Wednesday before it is sent to the floor for a vote.

In all, 25 amendments were considered Tuesday, including calls for an analysis of broadband services in the state and increasing the access of crime victims to the criminal justice process. On a 6-5 vote, the committee approved language calling on the department of transportation to eliminate future issuance of free passes for vehicles of state agencies, employees or retirees and their families on the state ferry system. Similar language was included by the House in its version of the budget last session but later removed.

Also on a 6-5 vote, the committee approved cutting $720,000 for advertising and research for the “Play Every Day” campaign. The campaign is aimed at addressing childhood obesity and encouraging kids to be active.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, who supported the cut, asked if TV ads were going to change someone’s behavior. Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, who opposed the cut, said the campaign has been effective and sometimes it’s good to get a gentle reminder to be active.

Rep. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, said the cut did not apply to the portion of the program that involves outreach in schools.

The committee also added $525,000 for an effort to help improve services to Alaskans with complex behavioral needs.

It rejected a proposed amendment by Reps. Les Gara and David Guttenberg, the lone minority members on the panel, to provide an additional $101 million for school districts. Gara said that would be the same as roughly a $404 increase over the current per-pupil funding amount known as the base student allocation. Minority Democrats have supported that level as a way to help districts stave off cuts for next year.

Several members noted that other bills that address the issue - including an education bill proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell - were pending and expected to land before the committee for fuller discussion later.

The committee also rejected proposals by Gara and Guttenberg to increase funding to pre-K programs and to restore $2.4 million for the Alaska Youth First Program, a grant program aimed at helping young people learn about and prepare for careers. The Youth First money was also requested by Parnell but cut during the subcommittee process.

Wilson said she didn’t take the cut lightly but didn’t get adequate information from the department of labor on the impact of the program and how many youth were helped.

Gara, D-Anchorage, said it’s one thing to cut a program because it’s wasteful or not a priority. But he said he’d found there were no evidence this was a wasteful program and said it makes a difference in the lives of young people.

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