Senate passes beefed-up capital budget

Republican majority misses target for cuts by $15 million

Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000

The Senate passed a public-works budget for the state Friday afternoon.

Sen. John Torgerson, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said about $3 million in general fund money has been added to the measure, which puts spending on the bill over the goal set by the Republican majority.

The goal was a $15 million general fund cut from last year's public-works budget.

``We exceeded it a little bit,'' said Torgerson, a Kasilof Republican. He said the Republicans' overall goal, to cut $30 million in general fund spending, will be made up somewhere else.

As it is, the budget spends $71 million in general funds, according to the Legislative Finance Division. When federal and other funds are included, the budget tops $1 billion, with about $15 million going to Juneau.

Changes to the measure include more money for airports statewide and seven fewer pull-outs on various state highways. Also, another five roads - in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kotzebue and two in Bethel - were added to the budget. The roads had been omitted because they appeared in a bond proposal offered by Gov. Tony Knowles, which has been set aside.

``The minority has problems with the capital budget,'' said Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat and minority leader of the Senate.

He said the University of Alaska is ``shortchanged,'' and millions of federal dollars are being wasted because the state won't put up matching money. The reason, he said, is the GOP is looking to cut its promised $30 million - no matter what.

``They're whining,'' said Torgerson.

Some parts aren't to the liking of Knowles either.

``I would say there are major areas that need to be addressed,'' said Annalee McConnell, Knowles' budget director.

She said the lack of education projects is a top concern, but that issue may be addressed more fully in a public-works bond package unveiled by the majority Friday.

Another big statewide problem, deferred maintenance, seems to have been deferred for another year, McConnell said, which means the cost of catching up with lingering maintenance problems will only go up. More specific problems with the capital budget, she said, include lack of funding for a new ventilation system for the Anchorage Pioneers' Home, and problems with boats and planes used by the Department of Public Safety that will be grounded without repair money.

Rep. Gene Therriault, co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said he told his staff Saturday he had no idea when the capital budget will get some serious work in the House Finance Committee.

``I'm not anticipating any major changes,'' the North Pole Republican said.

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