The Senate Finance Committee made two major changes to provide funding for Southeast Alaska capital projects in its version of the state capital budget proposal, which were discussed in its meeting Thursday morning, before passing it out of committee for consideration by the full Senate.
The latest version of the budget would provide matching funds for the construction of both the Snow Removal Equipment Facility at Juneau International Airport and the Hoonah Health Center.
The SREF would provide a storage facility for machinery used to clear the tarmac of snow and ice, as well as some office space for airport staff.
The Senate Finance Committee’s proposed budget would provide $3 million for the SREF project at the request of Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.
Airport Manager Jeannie Johnson, who was at the Capitol Wednesday to advocate for the funding, explained Thursday afternoon, “It leverages $17 million worth of (Federal Aviation Administration) funds in order to build our Snow Removal Equipment Facility.”
The SREF is also receiving $3.1 million from the City and Borough of Juneau from the renewal of a 1 percent special sales tax, which voters approved last fall.
Of the federal funds, Johnson added, “I’ve been working for four years to get that $17 million put together, so it’s finally real. … We’re just going to keep our fingers crossed, keep working on it.”
The committee also responded to testimony Monday from Charles Clement, president and chief executive officer of Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. Clement asked for $1.9 million to help build a center to house the SEARHC clinic in Hoonah, which he said is ready to begin construction this year.
Up to $2 million would be reappropriated for the Hoonah Health Center under this latest version of the capital budget. That funding would be reappropriated from the berthing facility in Hoonah, from which another $5 million is set to be reappropriated for an aquatic center at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka.
Senate Finance Co-Chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said that crafting the capital budget, which totals almost $2.03 billion in this version, was harder than it has been in previous years that he worked on it.
The budget is one of the smallest in recent years, with legislators increasing Gov. Sean Parnell’s total proposal by a relatively small net $160 million.
“I think I’ve made everyone equally mad, so I think it’s a pretty good budget,” Meyer joked.
The committee’s senators agreed that Meyer’s approach this year was fair.
“Everybody got a little lump of coal, but everybody got something that they needed as well,” said Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks.
Sen. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, noted that state revenue has not met expectations, placing Alaska in a difficult fiscal situation.
“This budget is trying to be responsible and responsive to Alaska’s needs,” Fairclough said.
As the previous draft of the capital budget did, the version discussed Thursday nixes $10 million requested by Gov. Sean Parnell for the controversial Juneau Access Road project, which would extend Juneau’s road system north to Katzehin. Meyer said Thursday afternoon the request was cut due to uncertainty over whether the project will move forward.
Parnell said after the committee hearing that he hopes to see the House Finance Committee restore the funding.
“Juneau Access is extremely important to me,” said Parnell. “The Senate did cut that $10 million, but my hope is that the House will be able to restore that still within our spending limit.”
The budget also maintains the $20 million funding level for the State Library Archives Museum, or SLAM, construction project in Juneau’s Willoughby District.
Alaska Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums officials have said that unless the Legislature provides $30 million more for the SLAM, costs could increase and construction delays may ensue.
Asked about the SLAM funding issue and whether he will push for the additional $30 million in the House, Parnell said he included money for the project to signal his administration’s support and it is up to Juneau’s legislators to respond.
“I expect legislators to do some lifting with me,” Parnell said. “I cannot do all the appropriation. That’s really their job. … I need the Juneau legislators to come forward, use their weight with their caucuses, make it a priority as well.”
Parnell added, “I expected the same related to Juneau Access. It’s going to take more dollars than the $10 million we have in there to move that even farther forward. Again, legislators have to do some lifting, too.”
Juneau is represented on the House Finance Committee by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, but its lone senator, Egan, is not on the Senate Finance Committee this year.
SLAM funding is considered a district-specific project under the Senate Finance Committee version of the budget, to Egan and Muñoz’s dismay.
“It’s still a District P project, the SLAM,” Egan said, referring to how the project is classified in the budget that passed out of the committee Thursday. Egan represents District P, which includes all of Juneau and several outlying communities, in the Senate.
Egan added, “You know, they call it the ‘State’ Library Archives Museum for a reason.”
Projects that are deemed to be specific to a legislative district count toward the amount of spending allotted for that district, while statewide projects do not. Not all projects come down cleanly on one side or the other, Meyer remarked Thursday afternoon.
“Some of these are tough calls whether they’re counted against a district versus a statewide project or an areawide project,” Meyer explained. “Something like the SLAM is a State Museum, but the benefits to the construction is going to be in the local economy. It’s not going to help Fairbanks or Anchorage.”
While Egan acknowledged several funding requests in Southeast communities like Gustavus, Petersburg and Skagway have been at least partially fulfilled, he said he is disappointed not to see more funding for Juneau.
“I just wish we had something,” said Egan.
Meyer said much of the money for District P is spread out beyond Juneau.
“(Egan) had initially put in a lot of requests for items kind of outside of Juneau, like in Petersburg and some of the other smaller areas,” Meyer said. “So we captured some of those, and I think gave him credit for SLAM here in Juneau, and that’s why it didn’t look like there was much for Juneau. And I’m sure Cathy Muñoz is going to be able to help a little bit. I don’t know what the House is going to do, though.”
Muñoz said she is focused on funding for SLAM, Juneau Access and University of Alaska Southeast student housing, among other projects, in the capital budget.
“With SLAM, clearly it’s a statewide project, and I will work with my co-chairman (Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze) in House Finance to try to redirect that to a statewide definition,” Muñoz said. “I also believe that the $10 million priority of the governor needs to be added back to the budget, and I’m prepared to make the case in the House … that this is the capital of Alaska, and we will benefit — not only the citizens of this region, but the citizens of the state — with access in and out of the capital city.”
The House Finance Committee will take up the capital budget after the Senate passes it.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.