Yes on Proposition 'B' is the best bet

Posted: Sunday, October 17, 2010

There will be a total of three Ballot Measures appearing on the General Election Ballot this fall. In addition to being asked to approve the issuance of bonds to support housing programs for veterans and whether to increase the size of the Alaska Legislature by six members, Alaskans will also have the opportunity to pursue some very worthwhile and much-needed capital projects.

Bonding Proposition'B' asks the simple question, "shall the State of Alaska issue ... general obligation bonds in the principal amount of not more than $397,200,000 for the purpose of design and construction of library, education and educational research facilities." There are many reasons why voters should answer this question in the affirmative.

Obviously, nearly $400 million is a lot of money, even for the state of Alaska, which has weathered the past few years' recession so much better than our fellow Americans in the Lower 48 and Hawaii. The tremendous blessing and gift of our natural resources - most particularly petroleum - is the main reason for our enviable good fortune and the relatively comfortable state in which we find ourselves. But we can also thank the Legislature and executive branch for being responsible stewards of public funds over the past many years, not spending unwisely just because we had the resources to do so. Even though we are a very rich state, we can and should scrutinize spending decisions carefully and only take on bond debt if the planned uses of the funds justify taking this step. Bonding Proposition'B' passes this test with flying colors.

Many Alaskans may wonder why they're even being given the chance to voice an opinion on these construction projects. The Legislature much more commonly just appropriates money in the annual capital budget, and if specific items survive the governor's veto pen, they get built. Bonding Proposition 'B' takes a different approach. House Bill 424 was introduced in April of this year toward the end of the 2010 legislative session by the House Finance Committee. HB 424 was reviewed by the committee before moving to the House floor where it passed unanimously.

After HB 424 moved over to the upper body of the Legislature, in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, House Finance Committee Co-chairman Bill Stoltze publicly explained the reasons for taking this approach to funding education capital needs. Because of the current national economy, this is an opportune time for Alaska to sell bonds, given high market demand for these highly safe and secure investment mechanisms. There is also the inherent benefit of allowing Alaskans to participate in this significant spending decision. After some essentially technical changes, HB 424 went on the pass the Senate unanimously, changes to which the House agreed prior to Gov. Sean Parnell's signing the bill into law.

Bonding Proposition 'B' has specific plans for the funds it's passage will generate. If voters say yes, the money will go into the 2010 Education Project Fund. From that account, several disbursements will me made. The one I find the most exciting is the construction of a new State Libraries, Archive and Museum (LAM) facility in Juneau. In the interests of full disclosure, I serve on the Statewide Advisory Committee for this project. As Juneau residents well know, our State Museum is a charming, but old and very small facility. Our State Archives are literally crumbling across the street from Centennial Hall, and the State Library on the eighth floor of the State Office Building is cramped and has suffered from unacceptable water leaks in the past few years. Bonding Proposition 'B' will generate almost $20 million to help pay part of the cost of a new, state-of-the-art unified facility on the parcel of land between the existing State Museum and Foodland, land which was acquired and dedicated for this purpose years ago.

The LAM facility is being designed so as to increase efficiency of the librarian, archivists, curators, and other staff who work there. By having historical artifacts and texts, reference and research materials, archived records, and all the other Alaskan treasures houses in one facility, public access will be vastly improved. The risk of further damage will be vastly reduced and our historical and artistic treasures will be protected for future generations. The designs for the new facility are breathtaking and inspiring, something all Alaskans will be proud of and able to enjoy. It is fitting that the Capital City have a world-class home for our unique Alaskan artistic and cultural materials.

In addition to providing essential core funding for the LAM project, Bonding Proposition 'B' will also generate funds for improvements to Mount Edgecombe High School in Sitka, and for schools in Alakanuk, Kipnuk, and Kwigillingok, all of which are deserving projects. The University of Alaska will receive funds for pressing needs in Fairbanks, the Matanuska Valley, Anchorage, Kenai, and Valdez. Finally, funds will go to pay for a vocational educational facility in Klawock.

Supporting educational infrastructure in Alaska is crucial to ensuring that we have a well-rounded population that can compete in the national and global economy. A vote for Bonding Proposition 'B' is an excellent chance to achieve this goal, and I strongly encourage my fellow Alaskans to join the unanimous voice of their elected leaders in Juneau and vote yes.

• Brown is an attorney who lives in Juneau.

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