Capital Projects Bill Gets Cold Reception

By Dave Donaldson

People in the capitol in Juneau today were trying to get a handle around the capital projects budget released by the Senate Finance Committee last night.     And drawing special attention was the section of the bill that reflects local and special projects – primarily in local communities.    Calculations of its financial impact are ranging between $900-Million and $1.1-Billion.   That figure does not include money the Senate might add later before it finally passes – or that House members will want to add at their own discretion.

Governor Sean Parnell says lawmakers are on track to creating a $3-Billion budget. He calls that “bloated” — and he says he directly asked the senate majority to take another approach to the plan.

Because I wanted to work with them on less spending and more savings for Alaskans.   And they chose to continue on this path, even though I spoke with virtually every Senate majority member yesterday about it.   So,  we’ve got a lot of work to do before the end of session I can tell you.

Parnell says it’s too early to talk about vetoing items from the budget.  However, he says he will respond if legislators continue the path they’re on.   He says part of the problem is that no one has seen the final package that will come out at the end of the session.

There’s still bonding proposals to be floated out there by legislators.  There will be additional spending that comes in – or at least typically comes in at the Senate finance table and the House finance table.  It’s a path that would, and have been urging legislators to correct before the end of session.

House Finance Co-Chair Bill Stoltze is responsible for dealing with the capital expenditures when it gets to him.   He says most of those projects are local and small – but this year, there is no large,  anchor project that by itself would account for some of the money.   Although he doesn’t criticize the value of any of the projects, he says he anticipated a more-complete review.

I would have thought some of those individual legislative initiatives would have had a broader discussion between both sides in development of those.  I’m not saying there are a lot of good projects on there that are probably wanted or needed within communities.  But it’s a very large budget of smaller type projects that are reserved for a different portion of the process.

In presenting the budget to the Finance Committee late yesterday Co-Chair Bert Stedman said the amount the Senate added to the governor’s proposed list of projects was about the same as the amount that was left out last year, when lawmakers didn’t have any local discretion appropriations.

We have roughly added about five hundred million to the capital appropriations, which is a job-oriented bill.

That explanation hasn’t been accepted by everyone – especially among the minority caucus.   Anchorage’s Con Bunde is leader of the Senate Republican Minority.    He challenges the long-term effects on the state of that much spending.

It’s a temporary fix.  Makes you feel good for a short period of time, but what are we going to explain to people five years from now – when they were temporarily rich, but now the state’s in deep financial trouble.

The bill will next be heard in Senate Finance tomorrow with amendments expected on Saturday and a vote on the floor to start the week.  Then it goes to the House with less than a week left in the session.


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