Panel gives first look at capital spending plan

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

JUNEAU - The Senate Finance Committee unveiled the highly anticipated state capital budget Wednesday - a $2.2 billion plan that could get larger in the coming days with a bond proposal and a savings component pending and the House yet to have its shot at the bill.

The package includes about $1.1 billion in general fund dollars, rolling deferred maintenance, supplemental and other projects into a capital spending plan for the next fiscal year.

Sen. Bert Stedman, the Republican committee co-chair, said this is a start. But he said people should not be alarmed by the numbers being floated.

Stedman, R-Sitka, said the state is in a "very strong position," with billions of dollars in savings or reserve. He said lawmakers held back on capital projects last year and there's a desire to make up for that. But he's also made clear his position that while a rosier budget projection has given lawmakers more money to work with, it won't all be spent.

His co-chair, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said legislators already expect to forward-fund K-12 education, to the tune of $1.1 billion, and repay a more than $400 million debt to a state reserve fund - all part of savings, from his view. He said he believes lawmakers are still going to be "barely catching up" with the state's capital needs.

Heading into this session, which is set to end April 18, leading lawmakers and Gov. Sean Parnell talked about their desire to limit spending and to work to create jobs, with Alaska feeling pinches from the national economic slowdown.

Taking the upcoming fiscal year on its own, the draft capital plan would use $491 million in general fund dollars. Parnell had earlier eyed limiting general fund capital spending $400 million, in addition to projects, such as a new crime lab that had been moving separately through the Legislature, as a capital target for the year, starting July 1.

On Wednesday, Parnell said he wanted to see a "reasonable" capital budget, one representing a sustainable spending level. He couldn't give a dollar figure for "reasonable."

He also questioned using bonds, which voters must approve, for infrastructure projects, saying this can delay projects - and jobs - months, if not longer.

Stedman said the public should have the right to vote on some projects. He said he didn't know which projects might be part of a bonding package yet.

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