Alaska Senate passes capital budget

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 11, 2014 at 9:44 pm •  Published: April 11, 2014
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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The state Senate passed a $2.2 billion state capital budget Friday, along with a bill to raise the borrowing limit of the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority as part of an overall package to help build a new heat and power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Reconsideration was served on the budget, meaning it could be voted on again before going to the House. Friday's vote was 19-1, with Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, voting against.

Wielechowski said he didn't think the budget had sufficient regional balance and that the amount for Anchorage should have been higher. Other lawmakers defended the budget as fair and reasonable, given the state's budget situation.

Senate Finance Committee co-chair Kevin Meyer said he thought members had done a good job of trying to limit spending while also addressing critical needs in the state. He said the budget was in line with certain goals, like finishing projects the state has started — such as the state library, archives and museum in Juneau and the engineering building at the University of Alaska Anchorage — and maintaining state assets with $90 million for deferred maintenance. The budget also included funding for things such as energy projects, roads, school construction and improvements or repairs for shelters for victims of domestic violence.

The budget total was slightly higher than what was reported when the bill left the Senate Finance Committee. Materials provided with the bill at that time weren't completely reflective of updated totals

Capital funding in the package crafted by the Senate is about $110 million less overall than that approved by lawmakers last session, according to information provided by the Legislative Finance Division.

Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, said in a statement that it was now up to the House to "show real fiscal restraint" and eliminate continued funding toward what she called low-priority mega-projects, like the Knik Arm bridge, Ambler mining access road and Juneau access road.

The budget reflected a $245 million financing package for the heat and power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. That amount includes state funds, including funds that otherwise could have gone toward finishing an engineering building on that campus, and $157.5 million in anticipated bond revenue. Meyer has said he was persuaded by university officials and co-chair Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, that a greater need for UAF at this point was the plant. Money was included in the budget to enclose the engineering building, allowing it to be set aside until the power plant was finished, Meyer said.