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Juneau projects largely escape Parnell's vetoes

Governor nixes more than $400 million in spending statewide

Posted: June 29, 2011 - 8:36pm
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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Gov. Sean Parnell talks to reporters after a press conference explaining his budget vetoes Wednesday at the Capitol. Parnell approved a $2.8 billion budget, with $412 million worth of projects vetoed. Sharon Leighhow, spokeswoman for the Alaska Governor’s Office, is on the right.

Parnell vetoes

$1,000,000 Airport Snow Removal Equipment Facility

$1,000,000 Centennial Hall Roof Replacement and Emergency Improvements

$2,000,000 Mendenhall Valley Street Dust Control

$70,000 S.E. Regional Resource Center, Inc. — Heating System Replacement

$2,000,000 UAS — Banfield Hall Dormitory Addition

$810,000 UAS — Deferred Maintenance

Source: Office of the Governor

Gov. Sean Parnell issued his promised $400 million in vetoes Wednesday, but Juneau’s districts were not hit as hard as some.

“We had some projects that were reduced, and some that were zeroed out, but overall Districts 3 and 4 did very well,” said Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau.

While $6.88 million was cut in Juneau, just more than $70 million remained.

Among important projects that survived Parnell’s veto pen were $17 million to replace Brotherhood Bridge, $7.5 million for a cruise ship dock, $5 million for the city’s Auke Bay marina and $2.5 million for the Sealaska Heritage Institute Native Heritage Center.

“That Auke Bay harbor project will go to reconstruction of the old DeHart’s Marina, and that’s a vital, really very important project,” she said.

Parnell said the budget vetoes were intended to ensure the state lived within its means and would have money available for meet future needs as well. He said while the state is expected to end the year with $15 billion in available savings, it is also facing an unfunded retirement liability of $11 billion.

“We have to save while it is harvest time,” Parnell said. “There will be lean times as oil production goes down.”

Parnell signed budgets Wednesday that together total $11.4 billion, with $6.9 billion of that coming from the state’s general fund.

Parnell said the state’s operating budget provided little room for vetoes, with most of the funding driven by formula spending such as for schools or Medicaid.

His just more than $400 million in cuts were focused on the capital budget, the large, one-time projects that many communities don’t have the resources to build for themselves.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said he was unhappy with the vetoes, but “I could have been much more unhappy.”

Some of the vetoes, however, raised some eyebrows.

“I don’t understand the reasoning on some of the vetoes,” he said.

Among the cuts was a new boiler for the Southeast Regional Resource Center.

“Why cut $70,000 for SERRC to increase their heating efficiency and in the long run save a publicly funded outfit money?” Egan asked.

The Legislature for three years running has approved money for Centennial Hall, to be used for roof replacements and to improve the building for use as an emergency shelter.

Then-Gov. Sarah Palin vetoed the money first, but for the last two years Parnell has vetoed it.

“I feel bad about Centennial Hall,” Egan said.

“That’s the third time that’s happened, that’s crazy,” Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said.

Parnell provided little information on his reasons for budget cuts.

On the budget veto spreadsheet, Parnell listed the exact same reason for all of his 152 vetoes: “Reduce spending level — consider in future budget.”

Parnell cut $2 million for Mendenhall Valley dust control.

Muñoz said she was mystified about that cut, because the money had first been requested not by Juneau’s delegation but by Parnell’s Department of Transportation, and was provided from federal receipts.

Egan said his staff was trying to get an explanation of that veto from the Transportation Department.

Two University of Alaska Southeast projects were cut nearly, or completely, in half. A $4 million appropriation for Banfield Hall dormitory addition was cut to $2 million, while a $1,620,500 deferred maintenance appropriation was cut to $810,500.

Other amounts in the budget aren’t directly tied to Juneau, but are available statewide.

Elimination of a $10 million Southeast Energy Fund appropriation distressed Kerttula, who said it could have provided crucial help to some neighboring communities, but Muñoz praised Parnell for allowing at least some increase to weatherization funds.

“The governor decreased that amount, but it is still more than last year which is good,” she said.

Facing the biggest cuts were communities represented by Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, co-chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee. Both challenged Parnell during the last Legislative session on some of his key issues.

“He got very political in Sen. Stedman and Sen. Hoffman’s districts,” Kerttula said.

“Ketchikan overall took some hits,” Muñoz said.

A single House district there received a cut of $14 million, more than twice Juneau’s vetoes, she said, but noted that it had been a “pretty hefty” budget to begin with.

While Juneau’s $7.5 cruise ship dock improvements were approved, Ketchikan’s $5 million ship berths were vetoed. Further, Alaska Ship and Drydock, which some local officials are hoping will able to build Alaska’s next ferry, had $4 million vetoed from a $6 million appropriation.

Parnell denied singling out any legislators or retaliating with his vetoes.

“Did I retaliate against legislators? No,” he said. “I didn’t do that; I wouldn’t do that.”

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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