Committee approves bonds for virology lab and schools

Bill for $24 million in university bonds now includes $193 million for road construction

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A conference committee of House and Senate members approved a bill Tuesday authorizing more than $200 million in bonds for school construction and maintenance projects and to build a virology lab in Fairbanks.

The bill now heads to the full House and Senate for a vote.

The bond bill is one of a few items left to complete before the Legislature adjourns from its special session.

The bill by Gov. Frank Murkowski originally would have authorized the issuance of $24 million in bonds to build the University of Alaska virology lab. But it was amended in the House to include $193 million in bonds to build a variety of road projects. The House also chose to extend a bond program established by the Legislature in 2002 to split school construction and maintenance costs between state and local governments.

The conference committee dropped the plan to issue the so-called Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bonds for road construction, but it included a revised version of the school bond proposal.

The new version of the bill allows up to $191 million in bond debt reimbursement for school maintenance projects and a few construction projects. Fourteen cities and boroughs, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, could hold local elections to decide whether to take advantage of the bond program.

Those districts would be eligible for a 60 percent to 70 percent reimbursement from the state for the projects, depending on the size of the project and the number of students at the school. The original program from 2002 was available to all municipalities and boroughs in the state.

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said the state already has established $720 million in bond debt from the original program and the Murkowski administration did not want open it to unlimited new bond debt.

Although the bill allows for $191 million in new bond debt, cities and boroughs could reject some of the proposals at the ballot box or choose not to participate. Cities have until Oct. 31, 2006, to approve the projects.

Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, said the bill focuses largely on major maintenance projects.

"I think the concept of limiting it is prudent," she said. "But interest rates are low."

She said when interest rates rise it will be more difficult to bond for school construction projects. She said Clark Middle School in Anchorage is in such bad shape it needs to be replaced with a new building, which would cost less than a complete renovation.

But the $51 million project is too large to be covered under the bond debt reimbursement plan.

An amendment by Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, to include the project failed on a party-line vote of 2-4.

The bill is Senate Bill 73.

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