Senate passes capital budget

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Alaska Senate on Friday tentatively approved spending $1.6 billion on capital projects in the next budget year, including about $460 million from the state treasury.

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The vote was 15-5 with all five members of the Republican minority voting no.

Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said the bill was designed to foster economic growth and development around the state and represented a substantial savings over last year's record spending.

Minority Leader Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, said later he voted no because he was concerned about the level of spending in the face of budget deficits as early as next fiscal year.

Therriault and Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, also have complained that the Interior region was shortchanged in the divvying up of funds.

Only one amendment was offered, however. Therriault proposed adding $2.5 million from a crude oil production surcharge to fully fund an independent appraisal of the state's oil and gas infrastructure.

Stedman requested the bill be held over another day in order to review the question. The funding bill will then move to the House.

The list of projects range from as large as $46 million for an intertie project in Southeast to as small as $5,000 in books for the tiny Tyonek school.

There is money for dust control, landfills, water and sewer lines, shooting ranges, police cars, fire trucks, ball fields and seed potatoes.

The budget also contains $10 million for expansion of the Port of Anchorage, $12 million to extend the Southcentral rail line from Port MacKenzie to the mainline, $15 million for the Kodiak Launch Complex and $13 million in renovations to Saint Mary's School.

Conspicuously absent from the 143-page document is any new money for three of last year's most contentious projects, the Juneau road and the Gravina and Knik bridges.

The two bridges, which received funding as Congressional earmarks, came to national attention after critics of federal pork-barrel spending dubbed them "Bridges to Nowhere."

The Juneau Access project is stalled awaiting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit.

The budget covers projects for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and supplemental spending in the current year.

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