Panel cuts fast ferry from list

Capitol budget shrinks this year

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2000

There are few things for sure about the state's public works budget for the 2001 fiscal year. But so far, it's not looking good for some Southeast Alaska projects.

Since a subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee unveiled its $894 million proposal late last week, the administration of Gov. Tony Knowles and members of the legislative majority and minority have been scrambling to figure out what's in and what's out.

A new fast ferry is on the ``out'' list.

Dawn Mach, a budget analyst with the administration, said a general fund cut of $1.7 million would cut off federal matching money for the Sitka shuttle fast ferry called for in the Southeast Alaska Transportation Plan. Because it's nearly $1.2 million more than the needed match, the cut could undermine other projects funded though mostly federal means.

``That will cause other, unnamed projects to be unmatched,'' she said.

Without the matching money for the fast ferry, she said, there won't be enough money to buy the vessel, which will cost about $8 million more than originally estimated. That would likely mean no ferry, she said.

Sen. John Torgerson, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the funds would not be in the budget the Senate approves.

Karen Rehfeld, state education support services director, said hopes of repairing leaky roofs at three Juneau schools - Auke Bay Elementary, Riverbend Elementary and the Marie Drake building - are pinned on some sort of bond package being put together, not on the capital budget.

Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat, said the roofs and a proposed $7.6 million classroom addition at the University of Alaska Southeast were among his top public works concerns for the session. As of today, he said, there appears to be money for some work on Egan Drive, but the roof repair money and classroom addition are up in the air. He'll try to get them put in a bill somewhere, but said the chances weren't looking great.

He said he wouldn't be surprised if amendments including the Juneau items would get a vague response before being denied.

``I suspect we'll hear: `People are working on a bond package,' '' he said. But then there's getting a bond package passed through the Legislature.

``I'm not sure a bond package will go,'' he said, giving a school repair measure a 50-50 chance at the Capitol.

Such a bond package is currently in the hands of Rep. Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican and co-chairman of the House Finance Committee. Lawmakers worked over the weekend on the matter. Mulder said today the package is still incomplete and needs some political stirring and fiscal ingredients.

``It's not soup yet,'' he said.

As it stands now, the current Senate Finance Committee capital budget of $894 million has most of the money coming from federal sources - to the tune of more than $707 million. The key concern for the Senate Republican majority is to cut general fund spending in the measure to help the majority reach its goal of $30 million in general fund cuts from last year's spending plan.

As of today, general funds made up $69 million of the capital budget, about $14 million less than spent last year and some $34 million less than originally proposed by Knowles.

That's about as much as GOP lawmakers on the Senate side are willing to spend in 2001, said Torgerson, a Kasilof Republican and co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

``At this point, if you're looking to put something in, you've got to take something out,'' he said. He was planning to try to add some rural road projects that were dropped before the Senate started working on the measure. Those amendments may be offered this evening, when the committee is slated to make changes to the budget bill, he said.

The House will take up the measure within the next week or so.

Gov. Knowles, a Democrat, introduced a bond package that would address a variety of statewide transportation projects by matching federal funds now with bonds to be paid off later.

That measure appears to have little hope with the GOP majority, key Republicans said.

The Knowles administration is still figuring out how the capital budget will impact state agencies. It looks bad, said Annalee McConnell, Knowles' budget director.

``There are some pretty severe holes in the budget,'' she said. Some of those holes, she said, could lead to code violations and health and safety problems in state facilities that aren't going to get maintained properly - including severe problems with the ventilation system at the Anchorage Pioneers' Home.

Also cut, she said, were boats and planes the Department of Public Safety needs to keep an eye on the state's massive fisheries.

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