Bill to give $5.4 million to Juneau schools

Bonds also cover housing, harbor work

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000

It's not all he wanted, but Gov. Tony Knowles on Thursday signed a $300 million bond bill to pay for school, housing, port and harbor projects around the state.

He vetoed two other bills Thursday, one dealing with a new approach to rural schools construction and one establishing an Office of Victims' Rights. Victims' rights groups supported the veto, saying the bill would create more bureaucracy, rather than providing direct aid to victims.

The bond measure, House Bill 281, includes $5.5 million for a new classroom building at the University of Alaska Southeast.

It also provides $5.4 million for Juneau school maintenance projects, including replacing roofs at Auke Bay and Harborview elementary schools and the Marie Drake building and renovating Floyd Dryden Middle School. The city must match that with $2.3 million in local funds.

The bond bill does not, however, include any money for a new high school for Juneau, a project that was a priority for local legislators.

It also doesn't pay for as many rural school construction and maintenance projects as Knowles had sought.

``I am signing this bill because it authorizes many vitally needed projects throughout the state and uses appropriate and available bonding mechanisms to pay for them,'' Knowles said in a letter to Senate President Drue Pearce.

However, there are problems with the bill, he said.

``Most of the projects cited by the state Board of Education as critically needed new school construction or major maintenance are not funded in this bill,'' he said.

Knowles had proposed a more than $500 million bond issue that would have paid for the 40 highest priority new school construction projects on the state Department of Education's list and all the major maintenance projects.

Republican majority leaders have said the governor's proposal did not show ``any fiscal restraint.''

Sen. John Torgerson, a Kasilof Republican who is co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has suggested that within a couple of years another bond package could come out that will take care of needs this year's package didn't.

Knowles also vetoed House Bill 445, which was sponsored by Anchorage Republican Rep. Eldon Mulder. It created a pilot program for rural schools in which, rather than asking for separate proposals for designing, for building and for maintaining a school, a contractor would bid on all three: design, construction and maintenance.

Knowles said the bill is ``well-intentioned.''

The problem is there was only enough money appropriated this year to build six new schools in rural areas, and five of those are already designed. It would take four to six months to put together the request for proposals called for in the bill, delaying construction by a whole season and actually increasing costs.

Mulder could not be reached for comment this morning.

Knowles also vetoed Senate Bill 4, which would have created an Office of Victims' Rights. He said the approach taken in the bill was inefficient and would create more bureaucracy rather than put money into direct aid to victims.

The state, instead, needs to explore ways to improve existing state and private victims' rights programs, he said.

Three victims' rights groups, the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Network, Victims for Justice and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, supported the veto.

The bill's sponsor, Chugiak Republican Sen. Rick Halford, said it would have provided experienced professionals to be allies for victims in court. ``I am shocked that he vetoed something so needed, which passed the Legislature unanimously,'' Halford said.

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