House rejects school construction amendments

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2000

JUNEAU -- The state House has rejected amendments to its version of a school and harbor bonds bill that would have put more money into rural Alaska and paid for college classrooms in Juneau instead of a covered walkway in Anchorage.

Amendments offered by Rep. John Davies produced debate over needs versus geographic balance in spending.

House Bill 281 proposes selling $269.8 million in revenue bonds backed by Alaska's share of a tobacco litigation settlement. The measures direct $165.8 million to construction or repair of public schools, $72 million to University of Alaska projects and $32 million to harbors.

Davies, D-Fairbanks, first proposed changing the measure to spend $7.6 million for an addition to the University of Alaska-Southeast library. The wing on the Egan Building, the No. 3 priority on the Board of Regents list, would give UAS 16 more classrooms.

Davies proposed shifting $5 million from a covered walkway for UA-Anchorage, part of that school's proposed $36 million consortium library, and $2.6 million for UA-Fairbanks deferred maintenance to pay for the Juneau project.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, argued against the switch.

''It's a major investment for a major centerpiece of the UAA campus,'' Mulder said. ''It's very, very important to the future of UAA.''

He said the Juneau project would likely work its way to the top of the university's project list next year. He said the bond bill as written was balanced to include projects all over the state, and Davies' amendment would upset the balance.

''He's being quite magnanimous in taking money from Anchorage to give to Southeast,'' Mulder said.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said new classrooms are critical to UAS, where every bit of space is full.

''Maybe people could walk outside a little longer to see those classrooms built,'' Kerttula said.

Rep. Jeannette James, R-North Pole, compared delaying construction of the covered walkway to building a house and waiting to add a porch.

''Ten or 15 years down the road, you still don't have a porch,'' James said.

Davies amendment failed 17-18.

His second amendment proposed expanding the state's bond sales and spending to $432 million. The $269 million is an artificial limit dictated by the amount of tobacco revenue that's expected, Davies said, and the additional spending would address critical needs identified by the Department of Education, especially in rural Alaska.

Davies proposed doubling the number of new rural schools from five to 10, adding projects in Noorvik, Golovin, Togiak, Koyuk and Akiachak. Those are the next five needs listed on the Department of Education priority list.

Davies amendment also would have paid for most projects on the department's major maintenance list. Addressing major maintenance needs now would save the state from more expensive repairs or school replacement in the future,

Rep. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, said Davies' amendment was about fairness and not balancing projects around the state. He questioned how legislators could support replacing carpet at six Matanuska-Susitna Borough buildings, carrying a price tag of $423,507, when so many schools on the Department of Education list needed new roofs or other major repairs.

''I said to myself, 'Somebody's got to be kidding me,''' Kookesh said when he saw the rug projects.

But Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, noted that his district is in line for just a fraction of the bond proceeds and would end up with an even smaller percentage if Davies' amendment passed.

''If people think their ox is being gored, I don't have a lot of sympathy,'' Rokeberg said.

Rep. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said Davies' amendment would use up bonding capacity that could be used in the future.

''I just think that's too much,'' Therriault said. ''This is more than we should take from the future to satisfy our needs right now.''

Davies' second amendment failed 15-25.

A vote on the bill is scheduled for Friday.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed two competing bond proposals with little debate. The first bill earmarks $237 million for a list of school and university projects similar to the one in the House bill. A second proposal includes the harbors that are in the House bill, along with $166 million in road projects.

The Senate's bonds are general obligation bonds that require a statewide vote. The harbors were removed from the original proposal because general obligation bonds must address similar projects. Then the road projects were added to give the second package statewide appeal at the ballot box.



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