House approves $3.6B capital budget

Access road and ferry terminal included among Juneau projects

Posted: Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bleary-eyed legislators approved a $3.6 billion capital spending bill shortly after 4 a.m. Tuesday.

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The spending bill will pay for construction of schools, roads, docks and other projects in Alaska communities. "It's got something in there for everybody," said House Finance Co-Chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage.

The final vote on the bill, which was taken up for brief reconsideration at 4:10 a.m., was 35-4.

The capital spending bill is the largest in state history. House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, wagged his finger at Republicans on the House floor Tuesday morning, saying they'd better not claim to be fiscal conservatives in the upcoming November elections.

Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, rose to agree with Berkowitz.

A few legislators also stood up to complain about a few controversial line items in the budget, particularly the $45 million in state general funding for the Juneau access road and $90 million allocation of federal dollars for the Knik Arm bridge.

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, said 60 percent of the Juneau access project - a 50-mile road linked to a Katzehin River ferry terminal - is in his district. "I did not get a letter, (phone call) or e-mail in favor of the road," he said.

The $45 million isn't as big a problem as the likely scenario that the state will end up dipping into a federal pot of money typically used to replace or repair ferries to pay for the rest of the project, Thomas said.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, was one of the four who voted against the bill.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, first voted against the capital budget but changed her vote on reconsideration.

Gara said Tuesday afternoon that his major objection was the $90 million spending item for the Knik Arm bridge. The bridge project is still in too much flux - with costs possibly reaching over $1 billion, Gara said.

Gara argues that the state shouldn't be funneling millions to the project until the full cost is known. Otherwise, the bridge could end up "a bridge to somewhere, perhaps halfway across Knik Arm," Gara said on the House floor.

Legislators approved one slight increase to the budget on the House floor Tuesday morning, bumping up the funding available to Vietnam War veterans to exhibit a piece of the Moving Wall memorial around the sate.

The line item for the veterans increased from $5,000 to $10,000, in an amendment offered by Kerttula.

Other than that, the House rejected further amendments to the capital budget.

In addition to Gara, Reps. Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Eagle River, Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, and David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, also voted against the capital budget.

The bill, Senate Bill 231, was scheduled for a concurrence vote by the Senate before midnight on Tuesday.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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