Deciding right time to fight for funds

My turn

Posted: Wednesday, November 01, 2000

I guess you might say I'm learning.

Lest anyone read the Sunday Empire's account of the Chamber of Commerce luncheon and deduce I am attempting to stymie construction of the new valley high school, let me clear the misunderstanding by putting my comments in context.

I'm not drawing a line in the sand or disagreeing whether the school should be built or "facilitated" as the reporter put it. That decision was made by Juneau's citizenry a year ago and since we work for the public and serve at their pleasure, it behooves us to carry out their wishes that's what representative government is all about.

Our assembly retreat was a three-hour discussion - open to the public and press - designed for a free interchange of ideas, background knowledge of issues and introduction of innovative concepts.

We first reviewed the goals set by last year's assembly and received a progress report. Then, each assembly member was to offer their "big three" ideas and priorities for the next year. The goal was commendable but it soon became apparent that there are more than 27 important issues and ways we can spend our community's time and money.

I would guess there must have been over 60 projects that "made the board." Now comes the enormous job of prioritizing first recognizing we have a limited amount of time and money then deciding how to effectively allocate funds and efforts to best serve the public.

Several members felt lobbying for state funding for the new high school topped their priority list. Since I worked last legislative session for the House Finance Committee developing the bond package that funded the construction of Alaska's schools, I tossed in some insight to help determine wise use of CBJ time and resources.

It's not whether legislators want to build new schools to enhance educational opportunities for our kids. Rather, it is "what can we do with our finite resources?"

To achieve an equitable balance between which urban and rural projects deserve to be funded most expeditiously, the Legislature depends heavily on the Department of Education's (DOE) priority rankings of both construction and major maintenance projects from across the state. Annually, each school project is presented to DOE to be scored and ranked utilizing a broad range of factors.

Let's do a reality check and take a look at some facts based on last year's DOE construction list:

Juneau's new high school project was ranked No. 52, costing nearly $50 million. There were 51 significant school projects ranked higher and there will be just as many, if not more, on next year's list because Anchorage and Fairbanks have joined the ranks of new applicants.

To get through just the next 10 DOE projects, state/local governments will spend over $157 million. By the time we work through the list and complete Juneau's new high school, Alaskans will have spent nearly $480 million!

The figures above only include new school construction. In addition, there is an additional DOE list of Major Maintenance Projects for existing schools at nearly $85 million.

Remember Juneau has just three legislators - with only one member in a majority caucus and two on record as staunch critics of "legislative action that failed to follow the state's priority list," the action absolutely essential to garner eight vital maintenance projects in Juneau schools valued at $7.7 million.

Considering these factors and more, it doesn't compute that Juneau is likely to win limited state funds for new construction of a single $50 million urban project. Complicating matters, if you go by DOE's calculations, our new high school is designed for a population base that cannot be justified (another subject we must deal with at a later time).

In conclusion, I utilized these facts, figures and concerns to suggest it may not be productive to spend a great deal of time, money and lobbying effort this year to pursue state funds that most likely will not be obtainable.

What are my primary goals on this issue? Spending taxpayer's time and money wisely; putting our best efforts forward into community projects with a probability of success; and establishing and maintaining the relationships necessary to keep legislative doors and minds open.

I'm looking for your help and input. My e-mail address is

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