House Finance Committee amends capital budget

Posted: Friday, April 28, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The House Finance Committee approved a billion-dollar capital budget Thursday after rejecting most amendments offered by minority Democrats. A vote on the floor was delayed until at least Friday.

The capital budget proposes spending $1.08 billion, including $824 million in federal money.

The total grew by about $60 million from the version passed by the Senate nearly two weeks ago. The state will spend nearly three-fourths of the money, $750 million, on highway, airport and other transportation projects. Another $81 million is destined for water, sewer and sanitation projects and hazardous waste cleanup.

The budget contains just under $73 million in state general fund money, $52 million in Alaska Housing Finance Corp. earnings, and $18.5 million from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said he was pleased with the results.

''We kept within the general fund target and were still able to capture the federal Department of Transportation funds that were available,'' Therriault said.

The Senate's budget left some federal dollars on the table as a way to keep the general fund budget down, raising a protest from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Rejecting the match money would have meant not building or improving five highway waysides: the Canyon Creek Wayside at Mile 56.2 of the Seward Highway; the Chena Pump Wayside along the Tanana River in Fairbanks; the Big Lake-Fish Creek Park Wayside, a popular salmon viewing area in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; the Solomon Wayside, home of the ''Last Train to Nowhere'' on the Nome-Council Road; and the Kennicott River East and West waysides at the end of the McCarthy Road.

The committee rejected one project pushed heavily by the department. The committee refused on a 5-5 vote to approve spending $6.9 million in federal money for a fast shuttle ferry to connect Juneau and Sitka.

The fast ferry is among the first pieces of the new Southeast Transportation Plan, a broad proposal to improve service to Alaskans through a combination of daily ferries and short roads.

The plan called for a catamaran carrying 30-35 cars and up to 250 passengers. Such a craft could negotiate dangerous tidal currents at Sergius Narrows 25 miles northwest of Sitka. Existing ferries must wait for slack water to negotiate the narrows, which leads to wide variations in schedules.

The department is ready to put the contract to design the $38 million vessel out for bids, said Deputy Commissioner Kurt Parkan.

''We have the majority of the money,'' Parkan said. ''Allow us to at least prove we have the ability to do this.''

Committee Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder opposed the money, saying he wanted better assurance that an existing ferry would be taken out of service once the new ferry is completed.

The committee expanded the capital budget into an omnibus spending bill that includes part of Gov. Tony Knowles proposed supplemental budget for the current year.

The measure takes a big step toward dealing with the cost of pupil transportation, which grew by more than $5 million, Therriault said. After an amendment on the House floor, he said, the capital budget should include nearly that amount.

Many of the amendments that failed were actually attempts to restore money cut from the operating budget, a separate bill approved by a joint House-Senate conference committee late Thursday.

Among the transportation projects are a total of $87.6 million for the Stevens Anchorage International Airport and $11.8 million for replacements in the state equipment fleet.

The bill contains $49.3 million for the Department of Community and Economic Development. That includes $30 million in federal money for energy projects, $9.5 million for a safety system at the Kodiak rocket range, and $6 million in community block grants.

The budget allocates $31.6 million for the Department of Health and Social Services, including nearly $25 million for a Medicaid management information system and $5.4 million for a child protection information system.

Other than some university projects, the bill contains almost no money for schools and harbors, which are addressed in separate House and Senate bond plans.

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