Legislature passes capital budget in one-day special session

Rep. Neil Foster, D-Nome, and Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, talk before the vote on the capital budget on Thursday. The House voted for the budget, 27-13. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

The Alaska Legislature passed the state’s capital budget on Thursday, allowing road projects and other construction to move forward.

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It was the only piece of business for the third special session, which lawmakers called themselves. It came and went in about six hours on Thursday.

The capital budget is $1.4 billion, the lowest amount in 17 years. Most of the funding is from the federal government.

Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster said the budget bill, Senate Bill 23, was a compromise.

“We wanted to make sure that construction projects moved forward without delay this summer,” Foster said. “We wanted to bring in over a billion dollars in federal matching funds back to Alaska. And we wanted to see that thousands of Alaskans continue to work in good-paying construction jobs.”

The budget included $20 million  for oil and gas tax credits, $8 million for community assistance and $7 million for a new school in Kivalina in the Northwest Arctic Borough.

The community assistance allows every municipality and borough to receive at least as much from the state this year as it received last year. Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara said this aid is important.

“For a modest $8 million, we said let’s keep that at last year’s level and not keep doing damage to communities,” Gara said. “It’s a good thing for public safety. It’s a good thing for taxpayers.”

Perhaps the most controversial piece of the capital budget was a decision to move half of the funding the state set aside for a Juneau road extension toward other projects.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt said funding projects like the road would contribute to ending the state’s recession.

“That’s showing the business community, that’s showing the international community, that we are willing to pay our debts,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt proposed an amendment to keep the money designated for the road. The proposal was defeated in a conference committee meeting.

Some members of the Republican House minority caucus criticized the process that led to the capital budget. They said it didn’t allow for their input. The compromise bill was released Wednesday, and went through the entire process in Thursday’s one-day session.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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