City retools wish list for Legislature

City letter asks the state to include local projects in its construction plan

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Juneau Assembly wants local transportation projects back on a list of state construction priorities.

And as the Alaska Legislature prepares for its annual session, the Assembly is asking for money for senior property tax exemptions and city employee pensions, among other requests.

The Assembly discussed a list of legislative priorities and a letter concerning local road projects on Monday in a Committee of the Whole meeting.

The members plan to finalize the priority list at the next meeting on Jan. 4.

"Basically, it's the same as last year's list. We just updated and revised it," said City Manager Rod Swope.

The letter asks the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to include Juneau road projects in a list of the department's recommendations for 2006-2008.

Juneau's projects were taken off a Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan when $450 million was set aside for two major bridges near Ketchikan and Anchorage.

The local projects, such as a second crossing to Douglas Island and traffic improvements to Egan Drive, were listed on the department's 2004-2006 plan.

A federal bill no longer requires that the money be spent on the bridges, but instead gives Alaska the funding without earmarks.

If legislators decide not to build both bridges and pursue other projects, then the city's priority list tells them what is important to Juneau, Swope said.

Money for a wide range of city needs could come through a state program that would divide funds among most Alaska incorporated communities, known as municipal revenue sharing.

Democrats support reinstating the program that was ended in 2003 when the Murkowski administration made cuts to balance the budget. Juneau's share steadily decreased from $10 million in 1986.

The governor and some Republicans propose giving communities an annual dividend from the Amerada Hess account, which is part of the Alaska Permanent Fund.

The city's priority list says it supports either a continuation of the old program or other forms of revenue sharing.

Deputy Mayor Randy Wanamaker said Juneau could use revenue-sharing money for improvements to streets, docks and harbors and the airport. He also suggested using it for sewer expansions or maintenance and city property.

The city also needs help paying for unfunded mandates, such as property tax exemptions for seniors and disabled veterans, Wanamaker said. The exemption is costing the city $1.76 million annually.

"There's only one way to pay for it and that's to go to the citizens," Wanamaker said.

A 5 percent increase in city and public school employee pensions was paid by the state from a budget passed last session, and Swope said he hopes the governor includes the relief again in next year's budget. Swope said the 5 percent increase costs the city more than $1 million.

Continuing efforts to get funding to build a new capitol and a highway from Juneau to a planned ferry terminal near Skagway are on the list again.

To boost the Alaska Marine Highway System, the city proposes that the state spend $120 million on a mainline ferry and $45 million on a northern Panhandle ferry.

This year's priority list also includes requests from the Juneau School District and the University of Alaska Southeast.

The school district is asking for more money to decrease class sizes, support special education and at-risk students, buy textbooks and teaching materials and update technology. Relief from mandated pension payment increases is also sought.

The university needs money for remodeling several buildings for more effective use of space and to develop additional dorm apartments.

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