By Dave Donaldson
With only twelve more days expected in this year’s session, legislators are beginning to get edgy about this year’s capital projects budget. Yesterday’s scheduled release of the plan was canceled. And that leaves a problem — most members haven’t seen any part of it yet. And they don’t know if the scattered information they’re hearing is complete – or even correct.
Last year, the legislature decided on a bare-bones capital projects budget, spending only $280-million from the state’s general fund – nothing but the essentials, and nothing for lawmakers’ home districts. This year, oil revenue is better, the outlook is good, and the Finance Chairmen anticipate making up for last year’s financial drought.
The absence of information has not stopped spending debate, however. Anchorage Democrat Mike Doogan – a Finance Committee member — admits that he’s working from the unofficial, unsupported hallway talk, but he expects the bill will be bigger than anyone thinks it will be.
There’s discussions about whether or not we actually have the kind of money that can support capital budget numbers in the eight hundred millions, which is what the current rumor – and I emphasize rumor – is going to cost.
House Speaker Mike Chenault says he doesn’t know what to expect from the Senate either – it’s all limited to conversations he’s had, nothing specific. However, he doesn’t think it’s a problem yet.
We’ve got a couple of weeks. Seems like the capital budget’s always the last budget that passes as we know. And with a couple of weeks left we still have time to negotiate what members on our side feel is a fair capital budget – and also what the Senate will consider is a fair capital budget.
The Senate Finance Co-chairs are previewing the budget as a jobs bill – providing money that was not available last year for projects that people need. Sitka’s Bert Stedman says the state will see an anti-recession measure – and a increase in the state’s savings plan – and an attempt to catch up on overdue maintenance on state property – and a bond package for some larger items. He says Alaskans should welcome that approach.
We don’t want to have the State of Alaska, in one of the strongest if not the strongest fiscal position of any state in the nation, and then not flex that muscle in down economic times. So we want to put projects on the street, we want to access some of our natural resources and create some jobs.
That isn’t enough to satisfy Budget Hawks likeDoogan, however. He says it’s also very possible that the plan will become a feeding frenzy.
Either the majorities in the House and Senate do a deal before this bill ever comes over to us, and it’s taken care of. Or there’s going to be a big fight.
The other Finance Co-chair Lyman Hoffman says state projections will show an additional $855-million in revenue available during the budget period that was not anticipated at the start of the session – and he wants to set aside $200-million of it. Meanwhile, legislators are waiting to see what will be done with the rest of that money.