House approves bonds bill over Democrat objections

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The House passed a bond package for schools construction and harbor maintenance Wednesday over the objection of minority Democrats worried about giving the Senate too much leverage as the Legislature moves toward adjournment.

The House version of a school and harbor bond bill, House Bill 281, proposes spending just more than $300 million for six new rural schools plus school maintenance projects and port projects around the state. Money for the projects would be raised by selling revenue bonds backed by cash expected from a tobacco litigation settlement.

The Senate has proposed a $439 million schools, harbor and roads package in two bills financed by general obligation bonds, which are subject to approval of voters.

The House rejected attempts by Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz to table the bill or delay discussion until Friday. Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said passing the bill to the Senate gives that body control of most major pieces of legislation.

The Senate could adjourn without passing legislation desired by the House, Berkowitz said, because the House has given away most of its bargaining chips.

''We're playing with sharks and we're just chumming the water here,'' Berkowitz said.

The House has sent over the bill for a University of Alaska operating budget increase, Power Cost Equalization, the subsidy for rural electric rates, and now the bond bill.

''We just keep lobbing things over there and we get nothing in return,'' Berkowitz said.

He said the only bills still controlled by the House are the capital budget and senators' personal bills.

''We haven't gained any negotiating strength, just given it way, for no appreciable advantage,'' Berkowitz said. ''This being Easter and all, I thought people would know better than to put all their eggs in one basket.''

But Finance Committee Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder said the leverage issue presupposes that the House is in conflict with the Senate.

''We're trying to diminish the barriers, not create more,'' said Mulder, R-Anchorage.

Mulder said House and Senate negotiators are trying to resolve differences and by approving a bonds bill, the two sides will have a choice of vehicles to pay for schools and harbors once other pieces of the adjournment package are lined up.

''The more we square off against each other the greater the likelihood we have of doing nothing,'' Mulder said. ''I'm trying to reduce the likelihood of that occurring.''

Berkowitz said sending most pieces of legislation to the Senate leaves the House vulnerable to the divisive politics that control the Senate majority.

''The House's position is not protected,'' Berkowitz said.

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