Parnell pushes for new science center in Fairbanks

Posted: Monday, April 12, 2010

JUNEAU - Gov. Sean Parnell said he'll push to finance a new science center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks now rather than wait for voters to approve a bond measure.

The Senate finance committee removed the $109 million center from the state capital budget Wednesday, along with a proposed crime lab in Anchorage. Senators said those projects could be financed as part of a larger proposed bond package to go before voters later this year.

Parnell told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner he was disappointed with the decision.

"If we wait for passage of a general obligation bond, the rates available at the time will likely make the project more costly for Alaskans," he said by e-mail. "I will continue to push for (financing now) because we need the jobs now and because it makes financial sense."

Asked by a reporter Wednesday, Parnell said he didn't rule out vetoing the proposed general obligation bond bill.

University leaders said they're worried voters could reject a bond package.

Brian Rogers, the university's chancellor, said he hopes enough direct funding could come from the legislative session so work can begin quickly.

"We're ready to go with the preparatory work this summer," he said. "Twenty-five million (dollars) would keep us on track."

The governor had proposed using a financing mechanism that would not require voter approval. Parnell's bill called for using subsidies through Build America Bond clauses in the federal stimulus plan. It would mean borrowing at interest rates of roughly 3.3 percent, he said.

His proposal has received tepid response in the Legislature.

The Senate finance committee, meanwhile, had proposed a capital budget even bigger than Parnell's original plan.

Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, and other committee members said the bill includes millions for roads throughout Fairbanks and Alaska and $40 million to help build a proposed bridge across the Tanana River for military use.

Some lawmakers instead suggested a voter-approved bond plan that was regionally balanced and focused on education. Rep. Bill Stoltze, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, held a hearing Thursday on that plan.

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