Knowles signs bills putting bond package on ballot

Posted: Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Alaska voters will go to the polls in November to decide the first general obligation bond package the state has had in more than 20 years.

Voters will decide the fate of millions to construct eight new schools in Bush Alaska along with funding for other urban school and transportation projects statewide.

Gov. Tony Knowles approved four bills on Tuesday during a ceremony at Clark Middle School in Anchorage, saying it would allow for nearly $800 million in construction projects to move forward. Two of the bills will go before voters Nov. 5.

''These projects come at an opportune time, when interest rates are low,'' Knowles said.

Alaska voters last approved a bond package in 1980 for construction projects including fishery facilities, roads, prisons and other projects, the state Department of Revenue said.

The state doesn't have a formal bond rating, but three national rating agencies have granted Alaska a tentative AA bond rating, Knowles said Tuesday.

Voters will be asked to approve a $236.8 million school package to authorize eight new rural schools, provide planning money for five more and pay to repair 39 schools statewide.

It also provides $62 million for 19 University of Alaska projects in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and elsewhere.

If approved, the measure would also allow a separate school debt reimbursement program to take effect, putting Clark Middle School and other schools in line for additional state aid.

Lawmakers constructing a school bond package this session tried to create an incentive for voters in urban areas to approve a bond package for Bush schools.

So they created a plan to require the state to pay up to 70 percent of the cost for some locally approved school projects. That bill only takes effect if statewide voters approve the $236.8 million school bond question.

Voters will also decide the outcome of a $226.7 million transportation bond package that includes funding to extend a congested Anchorage road.

Some Anchorage residents worried that state funding for the $37.5 million Abbott Loop Road extension would remove it from an Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation study. That study recommends federally funded projects for the city.

Knowles, a former Anchorage mayor, signed the bill despite a request by some residents that it be vetoed. The Abbott Loop extension would cut through undeveloped park land.

Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch wrote Knowles on Tuesday urging the governor to sign the bill. Wuerch said community council polls show strong support for the extension.

Knowles said the extension project would undergo a ''thorough public process'' under state rules.

''I want to assure them that this is not a way to tunnel around public participation,'' Knowles said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

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