A lot less for Juneau

City last in per-voter funding for proposed public works projects

Posted: Monday, May 01, 2000

Juneau's delegation worked hard Sunday to get their town more money for public works projects.

They got some of what they wanted, but the capital city still looks to get the least amount of public works funding out of the Legislature for the coming year. Those public works projects are in the state's $1 billion capital budget and in a $300 million bond package proposal currently under construction.

There was a time, Sunday morning, when it appeared Juneau might get $23.3 million in public works money this year. At that level, the community of Juneau would by far see the least amount of money in the state on a per-voter basis.

With changes anticipated for today in the Senate Finance Committee, Juneau does a little better, but still gets the least.

Today, Juneau should get another $5.2 million added to its take, according to Sens. John Torgerson and Kim Elton.

With that, Juneau's per-voter share of capital projects will go up from $958 to $1,172.

Even at that level, Juneau is getting a lot less than other regions and towns on a per-voter basis. Anchorage, as things stand, gets about $1,331 in capital spending. Rural Alaska, where the need for new schools and school repair is the highest, will see nearly $6,892 per voter.

After adjustments to the package planned for today, $5.5 million will be put back into the bill to start up the $7.6 million, 16-classroom addition at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, according to Torgerson, a Kasilof Republican and the Senate majority's point man on the bond package.

The Juneau campus will see less money for deferred maintenance than initially proposed in the Senate, down from $1.6 million to $1.3 million, said Elton, a Juneau Democrat.

Initially, the Senate's bond proposal pulled out the millions for the new university classrooms. That money had been in a House-approved version.

Other Juneau projects remaining in the bond package today were new roofs for three elementary schools, more than $3.6 million for renovations to Floyd Dryden Middle School and money for Juneau's harbors - at Auke Bay, Douglas and downtown.

Elton said he and Reps. Bill Hudson, a Republican representing the Mendenhall Valley, and Beth Kerttula, a downtown Democrat, worked all weekend trying to get more for Juneau. With Hudson working the GOP caucus and Elton and Kerttula working with Gov. Tony Knowles' budget writers, Juneau's delegation managed to get more money. Elton credited Sen. Al Adams, a Kotzebue Democrat and a political powerhouse at the Capitol, for pushing for Juneau too.

Back when the three Juneau legislators were newly-elected, Hudson said Juneau had a foot in both doors with himself in the GOP majority and Elton and Kerttula tight with Knowles, a Democrat. Elton said that balance hadn't really meant much for Juneau this year, until Sunday.

``To some extent, I think it hasn't been all that helpful,'' Elton said. ``This year, this issue, not helpful until last night.''

Hudson, to a degree, agreed.

``When the time was right, we all got together,'' Hudson said. ``We worked loosely before that time.''

Hudson said he protested the initial version of the Senate's bond package proposal. ``We weren't being treated fairly,'' he said. He told Torgerson the measure didn't do enough for Juneau. Hudson said he was asked if he'd give up money for repairs to school roofs in town - the top Juneau priority - to get the classroom addition.

Hudson said no. As it turned out, Juneau got the roof money and most of the university classroom cash included in the bond proposal.

``That was the best he (Torgerson) could do, and I took it,'' Hudson said.

Hudson said that when Juneau's share of overall government spending is considered, it partially makes up for the fact the capital city is getting less per voter in capital spending.

Kerttula said the working of the bond package bill may pose another problem or two for Juneau. The roof repair projects and other school renovation projects may not be costly enough to be included under the bill's language. Also, the state would pay for just 70 percent of the projects, which means the city would have to put a new Juneau bond proposal before voters to raise the city's share of the cash.

Changes may come along to fix Juneau's problems, she said. More for her, Hudson and Elton to do.

``We're getting more than we were betting, but we're still not getting what we should be getting,'' Kerttula said.

All three members of Juneau's delegation bemoaned not winning money for a new Juneau high school, which would require about a $30 million commitment from the state, and this year's projects aren't completely secure. Election year politics - with lawmakers trying to bring home money for local projects - may change the projects included in the bond package between now and the time lawmakers go home, Elton said.

More work for next year, Elton said.

``Just because we got more (money), I don't want to suggest that everything's hunky dory,'' Elton said.

Torgerson said GOP lawmakers have pretty much worked out a deal on the bonds, and the bills that would implement the package are nearing their final incarnations.

The deal sets the limit on the size of the bond package, and allows for the use of some tobacco settlement money to back bonds - though significantly less than initially proposed by the House.

``My constraint was to keep the package as near to $300 million as possible,'' Torgerson said.

The Senate GOP's compromise with their House counterparts was to allow for a type of bond package that did not require a popular vote, he said.

As it nears completion, the bond package uses $93 million in bonds backed by the state's share of a settlement with tobacco companies. That settlement sends a steady stream of cash, nearly $25 million, to the state each year.

Also used to pay for the package is $77 million worth of bonding from the Alaska Housing and Finance Corp. and $130 million of municipal bonding, which the Senate wants to see paid out of state savings - via a subaccount in the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Today, Torgerson said, a new version of the bond package - with a few adjustments - will be heard in the Senate Finance Committee and moved on.

The measure is on the Senate's calendar.

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