Senate Republicans shoot down amendments to capital budget

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Republicans methodically rejected amendments offered by Democrats as the state Senate on Monday took up consideration of the proposed $1.3 billion capital budget.

The six minority members offered 19 amendments, including many of the same items rejected last week when the bill was considered by the Finance Committee, and they met the same fate before the full body.

Senate Bill 29 contains $939 million in federal money, $111 million in state general fund spending and $295 million from other sources such as Alaska communities and revenue-generating state agencies. More than two-thirds of the budget, $906 million, is devoted to transportation projects, especially roads.

The bill contains virtually no money for schools, leaving that to a bonds bill approved by the House, and Senate Democrats' first amendments on Monday proposed spending state general fund money for new schools and major maintenance projects listed by the Department of Education and Early Development.

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, offered an amendment mirroring Gov. Tony Knowles' school construction plan: replacing four rural schools at a cost of $69.1 million and performing major maintenance at 46 mostly rural schools for $58.1 million.

''I think it's critical that we address the health-life-safety issues for school construction,'' said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. Ignoring major maintenance needs will mean higher costs because more schools will have to be replaced rather than repaired, Hoffman said.

Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, said two of the new schools and top major maintenance projects were in a bond bill already approved by the House and under consideration later in the day in the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee. House Bill 234, paying for projects with bonds backed by tobacco settlement money, proposes new schools for Togiak and Golovin and 14 major maintenance projects, mostly in rural Alaska.

Taylor said majority members of the House and Senate have not yet decided how school projects will be paid for, but that it was unlikely that the money would come from the state general fund.

''Even the governor was not so bold as to suggest that,'' he said.

Senators rejected other amendments, such as $1 million to replace the Anchorage Pioneers' Home ventilation system and $2.5 million for classrooms at the University of Alaska Southeast, after Kelly said money for the projects was in other bills, such as the bonds bill or a reappropriations bill.

Kelly recommended rejecting other projects because they had not been thoroughly reviewed.

Kelly said senators worked on the capital budget by reviewing projects submitted by Knowles. After careful scrutiny, he said, senators lopped off some projects and added others. He recommended rejection of projects that came in later such as $2 million for a small boat harbor at Tatitlek in Prince William Sound, $500,000 for an all-tides cargo deck at Dillingham and $250,000 for airport improvements at Delta Junction.

Most projects offered by Senate Democrats would have spent state money, but Republicans also voted down a $33 million federal grant. The money was aimed at a Prince William Sound fast ferry that would have provided service between Cordova, Tatitlek, Valdez and Whittier.

Taylor said the state should order no more fast ferries until one proves its worth in Alaska waters. The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities earlier this year rejected the only bid it received for design and construction of a fast ferry to operate in Southeast Alaska waters between Sitka and Juneau.

A vote on the entire capital budget is scheduled for Tuesday.

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