Juneau road loses staff money, will proceed anyway

Posted: Friday, April 06, 2007

A committee in the Alaska Legislature has cut nearly a half-million dollars in salary money for engineers slated to work on a road northward from Juneau.

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Even if the full Legislature sustains the cuts, the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities can still go ahead with work on the Juneau access project, said Nancy Slagle, director of administrative services for the department.

"I don't see it as impacting what we're doing," she said. "We have authority to create those positions ourselves."

The Senate Finance subcommittee that has been looking at Gov. Sarah Palin's $525 million transportation budget request trimmed $474,000 by eliminating the four positions.

Palin's budget continued former Gov. Frank Murkowski's request for engineering staff to work on the Lynn Canal road towards Haines and Skagway. The budget had passed the House of Representatives with the positions intact.

The subcommittee that made the cuts is chaired by Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome. The budget, minus the four jobs, was presented to the full Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Slagle said the cuts were part of an effort to stop the addition of any new positions, not as an attack on the Juneau access project.

Olson was unavailable for comment, but David Gray, his finance staffer, confirmed that.

"There was no desire for the subcommittee to make a comment on Juneau access, for or against," he said.

The department can go ahead with the road work on its own, Gray said.

Slagle said that's what the department would likely do.

"The Legislature does not have the ability to appropriate positions. They appropriate money," she said. "It's based on that money we receive we can establish positions. We can go ahead and appropriate those positions, even though they've turned them down."

Gray said the subcommittee knew that when it eliminated the positions.

"The department has sufficient resources and personnel to pursue whatever they are going to do," Gray said.

The transportation subcommittee's budget also included restoration of $2 million for winter ferry service to Kodiak and Prince William Sound.

The Alaska Marine Highway System had proposed cutting service next winter, while a ferry undergoes maintenance, to save the operating expenses. The Legislature's action will restore the service.

Among the communities retaining service are Kodiak, represented by Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Prince William Sound, represented by House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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