The Senate Finance Committee has released its first version of the capital budget, which tracks closely to the governor’s version with a few notable exceptions.
The total amount of unrestricted general fund spending is $79.7, according to a staffer for Sen. Anna McKinnon, R-Eagle River, who co-chairs the finance committee. That figure pales in comparison to capital spending under the Parnell administration, when high oil prices pushed the capital budget as high as $2.1 billion.
One departure from the Governor’s plan, is $32.5 million dollars set aside for the purchase of the Legislative Information Office in downtown Anchorage. Developer Mark Pfeffer said he is willing to sell at that price, even though it means a $4.5 million dollar loss for the property’s owners.
“We’ve indicated that conceptually we’re ok with that price,” Pfeffer said by phone. “But of course that depends upon all the other details associated with a sale.”
Those details include time-lines, closing costs, and particulars related to maintenance.
Much like the Governor’s version, Senate Finance did not include funds for large-scale infrastructure projects that have drawn criticism in the past, particularly as the state tightens its belt and slashes operating budget costs. $1.6 million dollars is marked for design work on an Arctic deep draft port in Nome, but there’s no mention of the Knik Arm Bridge, Susitna-Watana dam, or Ambler mining district.
There’s also no money for improvements to the Port of Anchorage, which officials have called a “slow-motion disaster” because of severe corrosion problems threatening pilings. The Berkowitz Administration made the port its single funding request to the legislature. Spokesperson Myer Hutchinson said that while it’s disappointing the Senate Finance Committee hasn’t put any money towards the project, the administration is optimistic about alternate funding sources from lawmakers.
“It’s always interesting at the end of session to see what the Legislature chooses to prioritize,” Hutchinson said. “It seems like they’ve had time to find 32-and-a-half million dollars for an information office building, and we’re hopeful that they’ll have time to provide some funds to secure a port that serves 80 percent of Alaska’s population for the next 75 years.”
The Berkowitz Administration is asking that the $290 million dollar request be part of a general obligation bond package presented to voters in the November elections.
Rep. Charisse Millet, R-Anchorage, introduced HB 329, a bond bill to cover construction and rehabilitation costs at the port, but no action has been taken on it since February.
An amended version of the capital budget is expected to come back before the House Finance committee in the next two days before going to the full Senate for a vote.