A Senate panel has decided Juneau can wait another year for state money to renovate Juneau-Douglas High School.
The Senate Finance Committee on Sunday stripped a $9 million appropriation for the project from a bonds bill. The revised measure was scheduled for a Senate floor debate today.
The co-chairman of the committee defended the move saying the Legislature likely will pass a major school-funding plan next year that would include some money for the $13 renovation. The work on JDHS was approved by Juneau voters in 1999, along with plans for a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley. Both projects were contingent on some state dollars.
"You'll probably see a lot of urban schools as well as a lot of rural schools and major maintenance in a bond package next year," said Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican. "The Juneau portion is appropriate for a (general obligation) bond."
Juneau Republican Rep. Bill Hudson watched the appropriation go from $7 million to $9 million to zero in four days. Sitting outside the Senate Finance room Sunday, he shook his head in disappointment but vowed to fight the move.
Kelly "obviously has his right to his opinion, but this is my school and people I'm talking to are the people who have to live with that school," said Hudson, who serves on the House Finance Committee. "I believe that we need that project this year and we're going to do everything we can to make our wishes known."
If the project was included in a general obligation bonds package next year and approved by voters in a statewide election, that would delay the renovation two years, said Hudson, arguing Juneau needs the money now. Also, there's no guarantee the Legislature would follow through in 2002 and pass a bonds package or that voters would approve it, said Juneau Democratic Sen. Kim Elton.
"I think it's tactical and I think the problem is sometimes tactics make you too clever by half. There are too many things that can happen to get in the way," Elton said.
The bill authorizes a bond issue for $87 million to be repaid with money from a tobacco lawsuit settlement. The state would split the money three ways with $55 million earmarked for mostly rural school construction and major maintenance. The Senate version funds construction projects in Togiak and Golovin plus nine school maintenance projects in areas that include Petersburg, Sitka, Angoon and Skagway.
The measure also appropriates $21 million to the University of Alaska, including $2.5 million for a new classroom wing at the Juneau campus. A House version of the bill included only $2 million for the final phase of the project. The bill also would spend $10.6 million on ports and harbors in Ketchikan, Sitka, Anchorage and Pelican. A House version included $7.1 million for Juneau ports and harbors, but Hudson instead tied that money to the high school. Under the Senate version, Juneau would get neither.
The measure is vastly different from a bill pushed by Gov. Tony Knowles, who wants to spend $127 million on four new rural schools and 46 school maintenance projects, including Juneau's high school renovation. Knowles on Sunday likened the Senate version to the 1950s film "The Incredible Shrinking Man."
"That list gets smaller the longer it hangs around," Knowles said. "People forget the four new construction and the 46 maintenance items is really just a very modest catch-up with what was left out of the budget last year, and I think it would be irresponsible for them not to address that."
Senate Democrats wore buttons advocating "4 and 46" and said they would not give Republicans the necessary votes to fund the operating budget unless the majority funds all the projects in Knowles' bill. House Democrats tried to amend the capital budget Sunday to include the rest of the projects.
At the high school "we're putting pots and pans out to catch the water that all of us are all too familiar with here in Juneau," argued Juneau Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula, one of 13 lawmakers supporting the failed amendment.
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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