Juneau’s three-person legislative delegation addressed the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon at the Moose Family Center Thursday, discussing the major actions of this year’s legislative session and other topics.
In their remarks, House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, Rep. Cathy Muñoz and Sen. Dennis Egan focused on the local impact of the legislative session, which ended April 14, and offered mixed reviews.
“I think we did, overall, very well for Juneau and for the region,” said Muñoz, a Republican.
Muñoz touted the seat she won on the House Finance Committee when the House majority caucus organized last fall.
“I’ve enjoyed serving on the committee very much,” Muñoz said. “It’s been a very good position to be on, I think, for the region.”
As a Finance member, Muñoz was instrumental in restoring nearly $10 million in funding for the Juneau Access Road, a controversial project that would extend Juneau’s road system north to Katzehin, after the Senate Finance Committee stripped the request out of the state capital budget.
Luncheon attendees applauded when Muñoz mentioned the funding for Juneau Access making it into the version that was ultimately approved by both chambers of the Alaska State Legislature.
Egan, a Democrat, opened his remarks with a brief explanation of his decision last fall to join the Republican-dominated Senate majority caucus.
“For me, I thought the session was a little more difficult than past sessions I’ve been involved in,” said Egan. “I was on Senate Finance Committee last session. Of course, this session, I’m not. However, I did join the majority, Republican majority, because I feel that Juneau needs representation. Juneau, as redistricting goes, has all of the sudden become rural.”
Egan’s portion of the presentation to the Chamber Thursday focused on the capital budget.
Egan read out much of a list of funding items for projects in his Senate District P, which includes Juneau, Petersburg and several smaller communities in Southeast Alaska.
That list includes $20 million for the State Library Archives Museum project, the goal of which is to construct a new facility to house the three parts of the Alaska Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums in the Willoughby District; $9 million for deferred maintenance on the Douglas Island Office Building; $7.25 million for Alaska State Capitol renovations and retrofitting; $4.2 million for street lighting along Egan Drive between downtown and the Mendenhall Valley; $3.9 million for a new police station in Petersburg; and $3 million for the Snow Removal Equipment Facility planned at Juneau International Airport.
Egan also highlighted a smaller project in Gustavus, which was colorfully described on his list as “Crapper at the ferry dock.”
“We built a beautiful ferry dock in Gustavus, courtesy of the state of Alaska, and there was no place to go,” Egan said, joking, “So in the summer, when the leaves were out, everything was fine.”
Of the reception in Gustavus to the $73,000 budgeted for a restroom at the dock, Egan added, “So they’re very pleased. It’s a big project for Gustavus, and we were proud to let them (receive) some money.”
But Egan mentioned a couple of projects that did not end up with funding in the version of the budget passed by the Legislature this month.
Gov. Sean Parnell requested $2.5 million for work on the State Office Building parking garage, funding that was removed from the budget during the committee process.
Two-hundred-thousand dollars for restoration of the House of Wickersham, which Egan has floated as a potential permanent residence for the lieutenant governor in Juneau, was also denied.
“I thought that was a win-win situation, but we didn’t get our funds,” Egan lamented.
All funding items in the budget are still subject to Parnell’s approval. Under state law, Parnell can use a line-item veto to strike out certain allocations before signing the budget into law.
Kerttula, who leads the 10-member Democratic minority caucus in the Alaska House of Representatives, spent most of her time speaking about Senate Bill 21, Parnell’s successful effort this year to reform Alaska’s oil production tax system.
“I was … concerned about the fact that we don’t have any guarantees about what happens next,” said Kerttula. “So, in talking with Cathy and Dennis yesterday, you know, we’re going to have hope. Let’s see what happens. Let’s see how this works out.”
Although she struck a conciliatory tone on the oil tax legislation she vocally opposed during the session, Kerttula affirmed that she will support efforts for a referendum on repealing it.
Kerttula addressed this year’s slew of capital projects for the Railbelt region as well.
Major pieces of legislation providing funding for projects in the Fairbanks and Southcentral areas took up much of the Legislature’s time this year. Among them were House Bill 4, which advances a planned small-diameter gas pipeline, and Senate Bill 23, which provides funding for a liquefied natural gas trucking project to benefit the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
“I think the entire Southeast delegation — not just Cathy, Dennis and I — have a healthy awareness, let me say, of what’s happening in terms of very big projects, large amounts of money, going out into the central area of the state,” Kerttula said. “And those of us in rural Alaska need to be aware of this and need to be keeping sort of track, because there has to be some equity in it for us.”
Egan also spoke about the Coastal Caucus he formed along with Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; Donny Olson, D-Golovin; Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; and Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, earlier this month. He said he was “very proud” of the organization and its efforts in the last weeks of the session.
“I wish we would have formed it earlier, but we made a big dent,” said Egan. “There are only five members of the Coastal Caucus, but when you have 20 members of the Senate and you have five members of the 15-member majority that are members of the Coastal Caucus, all of the sudden, we have clout.”
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at email@example.com.