Speaker says capital budget could still grow

Posted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

JUNEAU - House Speaker Mike Chenault says one of Alaska's largest capital spending plans in at least a decade could still get bigger.

The state Senate's proposed a roughly $2.8 billion bill that includes deferred maintenance, supplemental and other infrastructure projects. Gov. Sean Parnell's already blasted the size and said he has urged House members to take "corrective action."

The House has yet to take a crack at the bill; it's still awaiting a vote in the Senate that could come Tuesday. There are no guarantees the size will shrink: Chenault told reporters Monday he expects it to grow unless the House makes "some modifications."

He said there are probably "a number" of projects House members want that aren't yet in the budget. Parnell has veto powers, but Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Anchorage, said the governor has made no veto threats.

Chenault and other leading lawmakers have defended the Legislature as acting responsibly, producing a "frugal" capital budget last year and supporting efforts like forward-funding of K-12 education and repayment of a debt to a state reserve fund.

He said that given the the revenue is available, now may be the time to spend some on projects that have been local priorities or delayed.

Lawmakers are also weighing use of $380 million in certain bond proceeds for education and research projects that voters must approve.

One project conspicuously missing from the capital budget: funding for a new crime lab, a Parnell priority.

Chenault said he believes the project is needed and will probably be addressed in some way, either with general fund dollars or as part of a bond proposal, though he acknowledged concerns over whether it needs to be as big as proposed.

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