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Senate passes capital budget

Posted: April 12, 2012 - 10:46am

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate on Wednesday passed a $2.6 billion infrastructure spending package.

Senate President Gary Stevens has said he wants the state capital and operating budgets wrapped up by Sunday, the Legislature’s scheduled adjournment date.

The vote was unanimous, 20-0. The bill now goes to the House.

The Senate Finance Committee unveiled a new version of the bill earlier Wednesday, which was slightly more than a version of the bill released by the committee last weekend. 

In all, it adds about $720 million to Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposal, but stays within the $2.8 billion spending limit that Parnell requested. The House is expected to add some projects of its own.

Senate Finance Committee co-chairman Bert Stedman, in presenting the bill on the floor, said lawmakers worked hard to craft a bill that reaches “as many Alaskans as possible.” He and others have advocated robust capital budgets as a way to build up the state’s infrastructure while also helping Alaska’s economy.

While energy was a major focus of the current year’s budget, transportation is a focal point of the Senate capital budget proposal for next year, with an estimated $710 million in transportation projects, according to the Senate majority.

The budget also includes $340 million in school and education-related projects, including new school construction, major maintenance work and funding for engineering buildings at the University of Alaska Anchorage and University of Alaska Fairbanks. According to the majority, there’s also $190 million in energy-related projects and $70 million in health care related projects, including improvements to rural health clinics.

Not included in the bill is money for a structural analysis of the state Capitol, money Stedman has said that he’d like to see after learning of a report that pointed to structural problems with the aging building. An aide said that is still being pursued.

Efforts by the Senate minority to include $15 million for natural gas storage facilities and to restore $200,000 for an Anchorage “crisis pregnancy” center were rejected by the majority.

The budget figures do not include a roughly $450 million bond package for statewide transportation projects that the House and Senate are each working on. The version of the bond bill that advanced from the House Finance Committee on Tuesday cut one project from an earlier version, $3 million for maintenance shop replacement in Haines. That money was added to the line item for boat harbor upgrades in Haines. 

Parnell proposed a $350 million bond package, with six projects, including $200 million for the Port of Anchorage and $110 million for the Port MacKenzie rail extension. The House and Senate bond proposals have pared the money for the Port of Anchorage to $50 million and Port MacKenzie to $30 million.

The capital budget also includes $25 million for the Port of Anchorage.

Parnell said Wednesday that $450 million for the bond package is within the range he considered reasonable but he said he hadn’t looked at all the proposed projects.

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