- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The Senate Finance Committee included in a version of the state budget Wednesday language rejecting monetary terms in contracts for more than a dozen bargaining units for the upcoming fiscal year, a move that one union leader called unacceptable.

The language, approved in a hearing Wednesday morning, would reject the monetary terms unless legislation explicitly approving them was enacted separately. The unions listed include those representing correctional officers, ferry workers, university faculty and some university firefighters, and state and municipal workers.

The committee also adopted language removing salary increases for employees not covered by unions. Committee co-chair Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said that action would require separate legislation. Such legislation was introduced in the House on Wednesday.

Kelly said the move is geared toward saving jobs. The state faces projected multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices, and departments are facing cuts as lawmakers try to reduce spending and the size of state government.

Documents provided at the morning hearing showed the removal of the salary increases would be a reduction of about $57 million.

Leslie Ridle, a deputy commissioner in the Department of Administration, said in an interview that each contract is different, and the department will have to review those it was involved in negotiating to see what the committee action means, if it passes.

Ridle said in a follow-up email and interview that the department intends to work with the unions and honor the contracts the state has with them. She said she thought each contract had a provision for what should happen if the money were not provided.

While the committee adopted language referring to monetary terms, Ridle said the figure identified as savings seemed to track with the amount for cost-of-living adjustments.

Sen. Click Bishop, a former state labor commissioner, said after the morning meeting that he did not support the amendments. Bishop, R-Fairbanks, who sits on Senate Finance, said that while he agreed with the spirit of the amendments, discussions should happen between the state and the various parties.

Abel Bult-Ito, president of a union representing university faculty, said the faculty market is competitive and he worries that rejecting pay increases and the effects of other planned budget cuts will cause good people to leave and make it difficult to attract good candidates to replace them.

Jim Duncan, executive director of the Alaska State Employees Association, AFSCME Local 52, said he was very disappointed by the proposal. His union is entering the final year of its three-year contract. To break a contract negotiated in good faith in the final year “is unacceptable, and it should not be allowed to stand,” he said.

The union, which received 1-percent pay increases each of the first two years of the contract and would be due a 2.5-percent raise in the upcoming year, made a number of concessions as part of the overall package, he said. Duncan plans to urge members to contact legislators to try to eliminate the proposal.

“Assuming the Legislature has done it correctly, they have the legal right to do this,” Duncan said. “But just because they have the legal right doesn’t make it the right thing to do.”

Senate Finance is expected to finish taking action on amendments Thursday before advancing the bill.

Other amendments adopted Wednesday included $3.6 million for improved broadband. Half of that amount would come from the $5 million in unrestricted general funds a subcommittee had restored to the university system’s budget. The committee also approved restoring some of the funds cut by a subcommittee to public broadcasting, intended to allow for rural stations to be fully funded and for emergency broadcasting to continue without a reduction.

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