Savings may cost Alaska millions

Lawmakers may nix state contribution for transportation project

Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Consider this offer: Put down $3,400 and get $18,600 more toward the purchase of a new car.

The state may turn down a similar offer this year, rather than spend $3.4 million in state-generated general funds to get $18.6 million from the federal government for transportation projects.

The state Department of Transportation thinks throwing good money after better money just makes good sense, but Republican budget-writers in the Legislature are keen on cutting state-generated general fund spending by $30 million.

As it is, with a number of big-ticket items outstanding, $3.4 million may be too much. Already, the state's budget is bringing close to $1 billion in federal funds for capital projects.

Rep. Gene Therriault, the North Pole Republican who is crafting the House version of the public works budget for the 2001 fiscal year, said he's looking for the couple of million needed to take the federal windfall.

``We're still trying to find the general funds for it,'' he said. ``It's a nice (federal) match if we can come up with our match.''

The $3.4 million, however, is one of many issues wrapped up in the capital budget this year, which is one of the final pieces in the adjournment puzzle. Though it's been scheduled for presentation on the House floor this week, it has yet to emerge from Therriault's office.

Dennis Poshard, a DOT spokesman, said not all of the $18.6 million will be lost if it isn't grabbed by Alaska this year. Some of the money will be available next year.

But, Poshard said, Alaska's congressional delegation brings home $7 to $8 for each dollar the state puts into a national transportation account fueled by gas taxes. Other big states pay more than they get. So, when Alaska doesn't take all the money it can, he said, other states will have ammunition to argue they should get more.

``We will just be skewered,'' Poshard said. ``That's out biggest concern.''

A second concern is that about 150 jobs would likely come along with the projects funded by the money.

Among the projects not currently in the capital budget that draw big federal matches is the fast ferry proposed to run between Juneau and Sitka. For $537,000 in general funds, the state would get $6.9 million from federal coffers.

Other projects include $9.4 million to begin installing a statewide ``intelligent transportation system.'' That multi-project plan includes things like a computer chip system that allows truckers to have their load weighed without stopping on a scale. Computers would do the work, Poshard said, as a big rig drives by a weigh station.

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