Budget nears approval in final hours

Capital budget of more than $3B faces vote today

Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2010

Alaska's House Finance Committee passed a capital budget Saturday evening that's grown substantially beyond what Gov. Sean Parnell submitted earlier in the session, and tens of millions more than the big increase passed earlier in the Senate.

Now at more than $3 billion, the state's capital budget could lead to a potential showdown between lawmakers and Gov. Sean Parnell, a self-avowed fiscal conservative running for re-election.

Parnell said the Legislature's capital budget, which provides for big, one-time projects, "blew past" spending guidelines he gave legislators. Parnell wouldn't say what that guideline amount was.

The capital budget bill is expected to go to the House floor for a vote Sunday, the final day of the 90-day session.

Two thirds of the capital budget is the state General Fund and other funds, but $1.01 billion comes from federal receipts.

Last year, with oil prices falling as the budget was being constructed, almost all capital projects were cut out except for those that leveraged federal funds.

Sen. Bert Stedman, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which drove the increase, said the state could afford the larger budget. Alaska has $12 billion in savings, is putting more in this year, and needs to keep the economy going and make up for a sparse budget in 2009.

The House Finance Committee added about a net of $184 million in general fund projects to the budget, but also made a few cuts.

One cut was for renovations to the Governor's House. Parnell had requested $1 million, which the Senate had increased to $7 million. The House reduced that back down to $1 million.

At the same time, the House added another $3 million to plan and design a new state office building in Juneau, bringing the total available for that effort to $5 million.

That's in lieu of $50 million spending and borrowing authorization that the Juneau delegation had sought for a new office building on the subport property.

Other changes to the budget locally was an additional $50,000 for the Bring the Kids Home project site acquisition and building design, up from $75,000 the Senate allocated, through an effort by Catholic Community Services.

The House also added $150,000 to the Tlingit-Haida Central Council's Native youth suicide prevention initiative, $25,000 each for Capital Park and Melvin Park playground equipment and $50,000 for the city's Arctic Winter Games bid planning and submission.

One new project listed was $35,000 for a study of acid leakage of the Tulsequah and Taku Rivers.

After the spending bill passed through the House Finance Committee to the floor, some members said that they were not committed to vote for it there.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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