City projects await Palin's final approval

Local legislators happy with capital appropriations, but worry about vetoes

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2007

Juneau is poised to do well with the state's capital budget, its legislative team says.

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"I feel pretty good about Juneau's capital budget this year," said Juneau's Rep. Beth Kerttula, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives.

That's unless Gov. Sarah Palin takes her veto pen to the budget, something she said she might do.

Numerous local projects totaling $16.7 million made the list for state funding, including the Hagevig Fire Training Center, slated to receive $1 million for badly needed repairs, said Eric Mohrman, chief of Capital City Fire and Rescue.

The 30-year-old structure provides a training location for firefighters from Juneau and other Southeast communities, and for cruise ship and Alaska Marine Highway System crews.

Mohrman said the structure has had much of its maintenance deferred over the years and has received hard use.

"We're crossing our fingers and hoping the governor will sign off on it," Mohrman said.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he's optimistic Palin will approve of that and other local expenditures.

"She has said she is going to be looking at them very, very closely," he said. "The Juneau projects, we've already looked very, very closely at them."

The state's capital budget grew substantially in the last legislative session, but it's difficult to tell how much. That's because legislators struggling to reach agreement on the overall state budget included numerous operating expenses in the capital budget.

The governor recently toldthe Fairbanks News-Miner the budget had grown too much, and she would likely be forced to use her line-item veto to eliminate projects from a budget she said was larded with unnecessary spending.

"There needs to be an adult in the house," she told the paper.

Kerttula acknowledged there may have been some unnecessary projects put into the budget for political reasons as last-minute deals were made.

"There's always a chance for misuse, and the governor has her veto pen," she said.

Kerttula said she thought the kind of projects she, fellow Juneau Democratic Rep. Andrea Doll and Elton advocated would meet the kind of regional test state projects should meet.

"I'm not really very worried," she said. "All are justifiable. All have great backup."

Elton said the Senate Finance Committee, on which he sits, followed the instructions of Co-chairman Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, to look mostly for projects with regional benefits that individual communities couldn't handle themselves.

"He wanted all of us to get beyond the communities and think regionally," he said.

The Hagevig center is used by state fire officials for regional training events and meets that definition, Elton said. On a recent visit, crew members from cruise ships were there learning to fight on-board fires.

Another top Juneau project on the funding list also has regional value, Elton said. That's $2.8 million to extend power to a Federal Aviation Administration monitoring station high on Douglas Island.

Airport business manager Patty deLaBruere said the station gathers wind and other weather information used by planes taking off from the Juneau International Airport, but is now powered by diesel generators at great time and expense.

"The cost of fuel is enormous," she said.

Doll said she had only a few projects to push for that Elton or Kerttula were not already seeking, and they were much smaller dollar items. They included electrical upgrades for Reach Inc.'s Canvas Art Studio and a workboat for Juneau Area Marine State Parks.

Kerttula said she advocated $20,000 for the Juneau Avalanche Center to buy equipment to help with its forecasting mission.

Elton credited a cooperative effort by the three members of the Juneau delegation with a strong showing in the capital budget, but Kerttula told a different story. She said it was Elton's seat on the influential Finance Committee that paid dividends.

"Sen. Elton did a truly great job for the community," she said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com or 523-2250.



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