Senate Passes Capital Projects Budget

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The state Senate last night passed and sent to the House a $2.7 billion capital projects budget. It features money to bring about a true statewide energy generation and distribution plan – as well as the controversial contingency language that shows the Senate’s desire to protect that plan from possible selected line-item vetoes by the governor.

Finance Co-chair Bert Stedman said the bill increases the state’s savings by several billion dollars while still providing infrastructure for the state’s basic, immediate needs. The projects covered were from a wide range of technologies, and they covered all areas of the state – but there were basic, common elements from all parts of the state.

“You got to generate it, you got to distribute it. This is basic, basic economics. We’re not getting even remotely fancy here. We’re just trying to keep the lights on,” Stedman said.

In presenting the budget to the Senate members, Stedman apologized for not spending more. He said the state is using its wealth to prepare for the future – and to save more than it spends. He cited money for communities, for new schools and deferred maintenance and for village safe water projects. He said those fill a need and provide jobs for Alaskans. He said, We can’t save ourselves to prosperity.

“For those people who want us to spend no money in Juneau, I would say that is not the future of the state of Alaska. The direction the Senate has been going the last few years is the future. It’s massive savings, massive infrastructure building and a direct assault on our energy costs,” Stedman said.

Opposition to the budget from the Republican minority focused on money that was not spent. However, members also tried to remove the contingency language that has been the source of tension between the House, governor and Senate since the special session began. North Pole’s John Coghill made the argument in an amendment, saying such language is not necessary.

“It may very well bee that the governor has created that level of mistrust. But the legislature from this body has risen to the level to increase that mistrust. I think putting this kind of language out creates that ability to propagate that mistrust. I think that’s a bad way for the state to move forward,” Coghill said.

The House will open hearings on the bill this morning and take public comment this afternoon. Amendments are planned for Thursday.

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