Senate approves $1.2 billion capital budget

Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Senate approved a $1.2 billion capital budget for next fiscal year that includes construction and maintenance projects from the North Slope to the Panhandle.

It also includes a fair amount of goodies that lawmakers can take back to their districts.

Lawmakers say the capital budget -- which includes $890.6 million in federal funds along with $109 million from the state's general fund and $199.8 million from other sources -- is a smaller piece of a long list of construction projects for Alaska in the coming years.

A much larger proposal is legislation that would ask voters for permission to float more than $400 million in general obligation bonds for new schools and highway projects. Alaska voters haven't considered such a request in about 20 years.

''The big game this year is on the statewide G.O. bond package. That's where the real action is on school construction and maintenance in urban and rural Alaska,'' said Minority Leader Johnny Ellis.

About two-thirds of the state's capital budget -- or $778.5 million -- is earmarked for transportation projects.

The measure passed the Republican-controlled Senate on a party-line vote of 14-6. It now goes to the House for consideration.

Democrats maintain it includes about $16.5 million in state funds for projects sought by individual lawmakers for their constituents.

Among the projects:

-- Kenai Peninsula Borough would receive $45,000 for the Arctic Winter Games. The borough has bid for the games to be held there in 2006. Another $150,000 is set aside for the Arctic Winter Games Team Alaska.

-- The Matanuska Electric Association would receive about $200,000 to run power to the Princess Lodge on the Parks Highway.

-- Alaska Trappers Association would receive $50,000 for an instructional video on wolf trapping.

-- The city of Larsen Bay would receive $20,000 for mosquito magnet units. Sen. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, said the request is in response to an especially high concentration of mosquitoes there.

''I've been there a number of different times campaigning. You can't walk down the street and open your mouth,'' Austerman said. The city requested the units along with a drinking water project.

Ellis, a Democrat from Anchorage, said numerous projects could be viewed as ''pork'' meant to curry favor with voters.

Senate Finance Co-Chair Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, bristled at the suggestion and said few questions are raised when Gov. Tony Knowles makes similar requests.

The capital budget includes about $75 million in total spending -- state and federal funds -- for Anchorage specific projects.

Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch said that represents only about 18 percent of the overall capital spending in the state for a community that includes 42 percent of the state's population.

''That's not a good coming home story,'' Wuerch said, referring to Anchorage lawmakers who must run for re-election this year.

Wuerch is pushing lawmakers to include more transportation projects in Anchorage to balance the overall amount of projects coming back to the city.

The Legislature is considering several bond bills that total about $488 million for such things as new schools, harbors and ports and highways.

Debate over the bond packages is expected to be contentious for Bush lawmakers as well, who complain that too few new rural schools are on the list.

Bond bills before the Legislature include about $103 million for schools in Tuluksak, Akiak, Scammon Bay, Teller, Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Fairbanks.

Not included on the list are 19 additional rural schools that the state Department of Education and Early Development identified as among the highest priorities.

Conspicuously absent from the list is $19 million for Akiachak schools, where plaintiffs successfully sued the Legislature for discrimination against rural schools in construction projects.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said he will seek funding for that school and others on the state's priority list.

Kelly said the bond package included projects statewide in an effort to win statewide support from voters in both urban and rural Alaska.

''I'd say that all 19 schools is overly ambitious,'' Kelly said of Hoffman's request. ''We already have $200 million on the package, much of it for rural Alaska. We also have to have projects on there for other parts of Alaska so it will sell the rural package.''

The Senate Finance Committee takes up the bond bill Saturday.

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-- The capital budget is Senate Bill 247.

-- Bond bills include House Bill 524, House Bill 525, House Bill 528, House Bill 171, House Bill 175 and Senate Bill 372.



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