House committee reverses Senate, plans to keep natural gas pipeline funded

Some Juneau Access funding diverted under House proposal

The Alaska House of Representatives hasn’t given up on the idea of a trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline.

 

On Sunday, members of the House’s finance committee approved a capital construction budget that reverses a Senate move to divert funding from the pipeline to other state needs, including the hiring of more Alaska State Troopers.

The committee kept the money with the pipeline after Gene Therriault of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation told its members that “the loss of that funding for the effort would be severely detrimental to moving forward.”

Therriault added that the AGDC’s leaders participated in a White House energy summit last week with “surprisingly positive” results.

“My fear would be the loss of that funding would put the brakes on all of that,” he said.

The full House is scheduled to vote upon the modified capital construction budget as soon as today. The House changes would then go back to the Senate for approval or disapproval.

If the Senate disapproves of the House actions, the capital construction budget would then go to a conference committee for the two sides to iron out their differences.

The state’s operating budget is already in a conference committee, as are several deficit-fighting measures. The Legislature has traditionally kept the annual capital construction budget out of conference committee, but this year has been far from typical for the Legislature.

No Legislature in Alaska’s state history has come so close to the start of the fiscal year without a budget. The Legislature’s first special session will expire on Friday, and if lawmakers fail to compromise on an operating budget by then, Gov. Bill Walker will be forced to call them into a second special session. There are less than three weeks remaining before the July 1 deadline to avert a shutdown.

After the finance committee’s action, Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla and the man who suggested the funding shift, called the natural gas pipeline a “pipeline to nowhere” and said House lawmakers are supporting a “fantasy gasline above the needs of education, roads, and public safety.”

Dunleavy said the economics of the pipeline no longer make sense because cheap natural gas is available from Lower 48 shale and from projects internationally.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, pointed out in a weekend hearing that the Senate’s suggested diversion of funds would pay for only one year of additional troopers. Lawmakers next year would have to come up with money to continue paying those new troopers.

The House’s proposed capital construction budget also comes with significant effects for the proposed road to Juneau.

While Walker has said he will not go forward with Juneau Access, previous legislatures have allocated tens of millions of dollars toward the project. The Senate proposed preserving that money; the House has proposed diverting half of it for transportation projects in the Lynn Canal area.

The diversion also includes taking half the money for the also-canceled Knik Arm Bridge over Cook Inlet.

“We are going 50/50 on both Juneau Access and the Knik Arm Bridge,” said Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome and co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.


Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.


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