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SE lawmaker proposes $2 billion fund for transportation

Posted: February 27, 2013 - 10:53pm  |  Updated: February 28, 2013 - 1:18am

For the fourth session in a row the Alaska State Legislature is contemplating the creation of a state transportation fund.

Southeast Rep. Peggy Wilson R-Wrangell has carried the legislation for the fund’s creation since 2010. This year continues with the introduction of House Joint Resolution 10. The resolution proposes amendments to the state constitution to reinstate the Alaska Dedicated Transportation Fund. Separate legislation supplies the fund with $2 billion and creates a 9-member panel to determine how the fund will be spent.

The fund is located in Article 9 Section 18 of the Alaska State Constitution.

Wilson said the state has deferred maintenance on it roads to address let alone build new infrastructure. At the same time the federal government is expected to reduce transportation funding going forward, she said. Spending state cash for transportation project will have the added benefit of cutting through some of the additional federal construction requirements.

Alaska voters would make the final decision on the constitutional amendment. The fund would operate like the permanent fund with payments cut from interest earned on the fund and on transportation-related fees and taxes deposited in the fund.

The Department of Motor Vehicles is currently funded from its receipts.

“And I didn’t want to change that,” Wilson said. Under the new legislation the division would pass its receipts through the state’s transportation fund. Placing these transportation-related funds, and others such as fuel taxes, would ensure transportation funds would go to transportation projects, she said.

The fund is expected to grow over time to account for inflation. It could add $200 million in the first two years.

The 9-member panel created by House Bill 123 would assign funds to road, Alaska Marine Highway System, airports, harbors, bike paths and other projects. The focus would be to approve projects that did not compete with federal transportation funds.

Executive Director of the Alaska Trucking Association Aves Thompson said his organization supports the formation of a state transportation fund. He said the state needs to fund necessary improvements to its roadways. With federal funding expected to decrease over coming years, the state needs to provide a reliable stream of funding to transportation improvements, Thompson said

“Truck drivers,” Thompson said, “we want their workplace to be safe.”

Alaska Teamsters Local 959 supports creation of the fund. Barbara Huff Tuckness is the organization’s director of legislative affairs. She said a constitutional amendment to reinstate the fund has been long overdue.

“When was the last major road constructions in the state?” Huff Tuckness asked. “Pogo Mine when governor Steve Cooper was in office.”

Huff Tuckness said the fund would relieve the state of total reliance on the federal government for transportation funding. It would allow the state to “start preparing for our own needs,” she said.

John MacKinnon executive director of the Association of General Contractors said the panel created by HB 123 would result in better selection of projects.

“The prioritization of projects on facts and need,” MacKinnon said, “not on politics.”

House Joint Resolution 10 Constitutional Amendment Transportation Fund was moved from House Transportation Committee on Tuesday without objection. House Bill 123 Dedicated Transportation Fund, a bill that creates the 9-member Alaska Transportation Panel, was heard and held. Committee Chair Rep. Peggy Wilson said the bill would be held for about a week.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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