Plan includes area projects

Chenault says his district should see funds in Legislature’s version

Posted: Monday, December 19, 2005

Gov. Frank Murkowski’s 2007 state capital spending plan announced Thursday includes roughly $17.5 million for projects on the Kenai Peninsula.

House District 33, which encompasses Kenai and Soldotna, is in line for $4.25 million, all of it federal funds, for road improvements in Kenai ($850,000) and reconstruction of Keystone Drive ($3.4 million).

House District 35, which includes Homer and Seward and other parts of the lower Kenai Peninsula, could receive almost $8.5 million in state general funds and another $4.76 million in federal funds for a list of 10 projects.

The budget offered by the governor Thursday, however, earmarks no funds for specific projects in House District 34, House Finance Committee Co-Chair Mike Chenault’s district.

“I’m sure there will be things in there in the Legislature’s version,” Chenault said Friday. “I don’t know how they put it (the governor’s version) together.”

Asked if he had specific projects he wants in the final capital budget for his district, he said not right now.

“Maybe once I see what the priorities of the (Kenai Peninsula) borough are and where we can find an available source of money. But now, I have no diehard agenda that I have to have this year.”

Probably most, if not all, the projects in Districts 33 and 35 were proposed by state agencies, Chenault said. He did note that part of Keystone Drive is in District 34.

It is not altogether unusual that a district have no line items in the initial version of the capital-spending bill, Chenault said.

Sen. Gary Stevens, whose district includes Homer and Seward, said the governor’s capital budget “looks really good to me.”

The governor’s budget would represent an increase of around $529 million over the current budget.

However, according to the governor’s office, Murkowski also would spend about $1.1 billion in windfall oil revenues currently being treated as a separate pool of money, including committing $565 million to the newly created Public Education Fund, setting aside $400 million for investment in a natural gas pipeline, and another $130 million for public safety, corrections, and gas line preplanning expenses.

When the oil surplus spending is added, the increase over the current budget exceeds $1.5 billion.

The new budget also would increase the K-12 foundation formula by $90 million, raising the per-student expenditure from $4,919 to $5,352.

One proposal preferred by the governor may meet some resistance from state lawmakers representing the Kenai Peninsula. Murkowski would set aside the maximum allowed for the proposed Knik Arm and Gravina Island (Ketchikan) bridge projects, $94 million and $91 million, respectively.

“Our state rules limit how federal funds can be allocated toward projects in any one year,” he said. “These projects will move more slowly as a result of Congressional Action, but I will move them along as fast as I can.”

Peninsula lawmakers have said they generally favor spending that money on the Department of Transportation’s State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP. They support returning to the list of peninsula projects that were eliminated when it appeared Congress would mandate expenditures on the two bridges.

Congress eventually withdrew that mandate by lifting or funding earmarks for the bridges, but appropriated the same amount of highway funds to Alaska, leaving it up to the state to decide where it should be spent. The state is free to decide to spend it on the bridges, or not.

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