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State transportation fund takes step forward

Constitutional amendment proposal backed by SE legislators

Posted: April 4, 2012 - 12:13am

The Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday approved amending the Alaska Constitution to create a new Transportation Fund, despite the existing prohibitions on dedicated funds.

Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said the new political reality of federal budget shortfalls will mean Alaska will have to pay for more of its own highway, airport and ferry needs.

“Like it or not we are going to have to shoulder more of the responsibility for transportation funding in the state of Alaska,” Wilson told the committee.

Her proposal, House Joint Resolution 4, was approved by the full House last week. It was also co-sponsored by Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, made the motion Tuesday to move the bill from committee. It now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

HJR 4 would create a fund to be capitalized with $1 billion in a separate action. Also flowing into the fund, she said, would be other transportation related fees such as those collected from the Division of Motor Vehicles, motor fuel taxes, rental car taxes and others the Legislature puts into the fund.

The Alaska Constitution prohibits dedicated funds, but Alaska once had a dedicated transportation infrastructure fund.

Wilson said the new reality is that the state needs one again.

She said that reports the state is hearing from Washington, D.C. indicate the state could lose as much as half its federal transportation funding.

The new fund would give the state money with which it could build its own projects. State dollars go further because they avoid costly federal rules she said.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken, appearing earlier in the meeting on a different topic, said that national studies show that 84 percent of the nation’s economy is based on the transportation system, and Alaska was no different.

“Our economy really runs off our transportation system,” he said.

Wilson said she’d like to see a fund that could provide $100 million a year for transportation projects.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, said the public deserved the opportunity to decide on the measure.

“Let’s get it before the voters in November,” Wilson said.

The amendment proposal now goes to the Senate Finance Committee, and as a constitutional amendment will need to pass on the floor by a two-thirds vote.

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

Legislator says Alaska could lose half its federal transportation money in the future and must set aside cash in a dedicated fund.
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