The state could begin construction of a University of Alaska School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Juneau under a bond package that passed the state House of Representatives early Wednesday morning.
The two bond proposals would provide $93 million in general obligation bonds for transportation projects and $143 million in revenue bonds for education projects.
But the state Senate still must approve the packages, which could be a tough sell. If approved by the Legislature, the transportation bonds also would require voter approval in the November election. The education bonds would be financed through the Alaska Student Loan Corporation.
The three-story, 41,500-square-foot University of Alaska Fairbanks research facility would be located at Lena Point, just south of Tee Harbor. The building would provide space for 14 faculty members, two classrooms, about 19 laboratories and wet labs with large salt-water tanks.
The Legislature secured $9 million in general obligation bonds for the $18 million facility in 2002. Combined with federal funds the additional $7 million bond proposal would likely allow the project to move forward.
The education bonds also would provide $1.3 million for design, relocation and site development for the Alaska State Archives. The facility would be located near the Alaska State Museum and provide a new home for the state archives and State Library.
The bond bills also include:
$3 million for upgrades to Juneau elementary schools for compliance with Americans with Disabilities requirements.
$1.2 million to remodel the Hendrickson Building and Annex at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau.
$2.3 million for transportation improvements around Juneau.
Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said the money was originally intended for improvements to Riverside Drive. She said it is up to the discretion of the Juneau Assembly to determine how the money would be used, noting that the funds could not be used for the Juneau Access Project or a second bridge crossing.
But the proposals might be dead on arrival in the Senate.
"We've been very consistent in our message to (the House) that we think it's imprudent to have a big bond package this year or a big spending package," said Senate President Gene Therriault, R-North Pole. "It's my understanding - and I have not had a chance to read through all of what they passed over last night - that they're just using up the funding sources that would be useful to have over the next couple of years."
Therriault said he referred the two bills to committees but it is uncertain if the proposals will make it to the floor for a vote.
Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said lawmakers have not had adequate time to review the merits of the projects in the two proposals.
"I suggest that if somebody wants a bond bill, they put it in on the first day," Wilken said. "And they should probably find an acceptable revenue source also."
Kerttula said the bonds were "absolutely reasonable."
"The overwhelming issue this whole session from day one through now is education," she said. "We went down almost the entire major maintenance list, we took the top priorities for the university and then we took the top priorities for communities."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.