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Senate Finance advances budget bill

Posted: April 9, 2014 - 8:45pm

JUNEAU — The Senate Finance Committee advanced a $2.1 billion capital budget Wednesday.

Perhaps the biggest change compared with the draft unveiled earlier this week was a $245-million financing package for a heat and power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The figure includes state funds and $157.5 million in anticipated bond revenue. The committee advanced a separate bill, SB218, that would increase the borrowing limit of the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority as part of that overall package.

The capital budget included language urging the University of Alaska to implement a utility surcharge or increase tuition in an amount not to exceed $2 million in annual revenue. That funding along with fuel savings from building a new plant would be used to offset revenue-bond debt service for the power plant project, according to the nonbinding language that expressed the intent of lawmakers.

The budget bill is subject to change. Once it passes the Senate, it will go to the House.

Senate Finance co-chair Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, has said that his goals with the budget included having the state finish projects it has started — like the state library, archives and museum in Juneau and an engineering building at the University of Alaska Anchorage — and maintain roads, building or other state assets by addressing issues of deferred maintenance. He also has sought to hold down the level of spending, a desire shared by the governor and other lawmakers.

While the overall size of the bill was up from the committee draft released Monday, it was about $180 million less than the capital budget, including supplemental capital items, approved by lawmakers last session. The bill has close to $440 million less in unrestricted general funds than in the budget approved last year, according to the Legislative Finance Division.

The committee approved an amendment to provide $2.1 million as a match should the federal government provide funding for — and the U.S. interior secretary reverse her decision on — a road linking the community of King Cove and an all-weather airport at Cold Bay. Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have been pushing for the project.

The budget did not include any additional money — beyond the $10 million already included — for the proposed Susitna-Watana hydro project, despite a request for reconsideration by Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration. Meyer has said the focus has been on pursuing a gas-line project and that there were some concerns that the state did not need to and could not afford to do both major projects.

The budget added $5 million for the Alaska Railroad Corp. for safety technology, bringing to $15 million the total for that appropriation. Accompanying intent language urges the corporation to implement a passenger fee-based structure to help cover the costs and implementation of the safety program.

Online:

SB119, the capital budget: http://bit.ly/1fXF5Xl

SB218: http://bit.ly/OG1EVH

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