Senate approves capital budget of more than $1 billion

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state Senate approved a capital budget of more than $1 billion Friday with most of the money going toward road projects.

Senate Bill 192 proposes spending $786.7 million in federal funds matched by $71.3 million in state general funds. The spending also includes $52 million from the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. and $18.5 million from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

Most of the money -- $714.4 million -- is designated for the Department of Transportation for road projects.

However, more spending for bricks and mortar is to be considered at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Saturday morning. A bill introduced by the committee late Friday proposes issuing up to $269 million in general obligation bonds for public schools, the University of Alaska, and port and harbor projects. The measure would need the approval of voters in November.

The capital projects bill was approved 15-5 along party lines. It was criticized by Democrats for leaving millions of dollars in federal money that could have been brought to Alaska with state matching funds.

''We believe that's not good judgment on the part of the majority,'' said Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage.

Finance Committee co-chairman John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, said the budget could have brought in another $15 million or so in transportation projects. Majority members, however, did not support all projects for which federal money was available, such as a fast ferry for the Alaska Marine Highway System in Southeast Alaska, Torgerson said.

''We weren't in favor of the projects,'' he said. ''I can't say we left it on the table.''

He also said the bill was revised to substitute road projects in favor of trail projects.

''With the money we have, we did the best we could do,'' Torgerson said.

Senate Majority members rejected amendments offered by Democrats.

Ellis called for spending nearly $1.5 million to upgrade the Anchorage Pioneers' Home ventilation and humidification systems. The building suffers from a lack of fresh air and some rooms are excessively hot in the summer, bringing on problems such as headaches, vomiting and nosebleeds, he said.

However, Rep. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said the bill contains $250,000 for the home, enough to pay for design and preparation for construction bids. The rest of the money will come next year, he said.

''No Legislature will not fund that,'' Wilken said. ''It's a slam dunk.'' He said funding in phases will mean the project will be completed by November 2001 instead of June.

Senators rejected adding $36 million for a UA-Anchorage library, $7.6 million for UA-Southeast classrooms, and $1.6 million to upgrade senior housing in Cordova.

The bill now moves to the House.

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