House rejects most amendments to proposed capital budget

Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state House on Friday approved the billion-dollar capital project budget after rejecting minority members' attempts to add money for more rural schools and children's programs.

Senate Bill 192 was approved 26-12. However, the bill was held for one more vote and lawmakers rejected paying for the budget with a draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which requires a three-fourths vote, or 30 members.

The capital budget proposes spending $1.08 billion, including $824 million in federal money and $73 million from the state's general fund.

Nearly three-fourths of the money, $750 million, is directed to road, harbor and airport projects. Another $81 million is destined for water, sewer and sanitation projects.

Votes on the bill fell along party lines and House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz repeated warnings that the House is not holding back enough bargaining chips to convince senators to approve some remaining high-profile issues.

''They're proceeding too quickly without any assurances that the House's priorities will be addressed,'' Berkowitz said of the House majority.

Berkowitz said rural power subsidies, the University of Alaska and state employee contracts remain as unresolved issues.

''We're leaving people behind,'' Berkowitz said.

Asked what it will take to get Democrats on board for the draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, used to fill in the gap between spending and petroleum revenue, Berkowitz had a one-word answer.

''Satisfaction,'' he said.

Rep. Eldon Mulder, co-chairman of the Finance Committee, repeated his previous statements that the House majority is trying to remove barriers between the House and the Senate, not add new ones. He said the two bodies continue to work cooperatively but the House may not win every fight.

''Things at the end of the day sometimes require compromise,'' Mulder said.

He said both sides are making progress on his top priority for the session, school repair and construction, to be paid for with revenue bonds backed by tobacco litigation settlement money, general obligation bonds, a combination of the two or another source.

Mulder said all issues, including university funding, remain on the table. Though the current version of the operating budget contains just half of the $16.9 million requested increase, additional money could be sent through legislation for employee pay raises and technical and vocation education.

He said the House may hold the capital budget until next week.

''I'm not saying what the final chess moves will be,'' Mulder said

Most of the amendments offered by Democrats were additions that had been rejected when the bill was in committee or when the House considered the school bonds bill.

The House rejected an attempt to build four more rural schools next year and pay for most of the school major maintenance projects listed state by the Department of Education.

House lawmakers rejected a $600,000 increase in grants to improve student performances on the high school graduation exam, $700,000 for infant learning programs and $2 million more for weatherization of low-income homes. They also rejected authorizing the state Department of Transportation to spend $6.9 million more in federal money to build a fast ferry to operate between Sitka and Juneau.

One school-related amendment was approved. The bill now contains nearly $5 million to cover increases in the cost of bus contracts for local school districts.

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