Wilson’s transportation fund advances in House

The fast ferry Chenega is up on blocks for repairs and maintenance at the Ketchikan Shipyard Feb. 21, 2014. The Alaska Marine Highway, roads, air[ports and other transportation projects could get a funding boost under Legislation moving in the state House. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

The fast ferry Chenega is up on blocks for repairs and maintenance at the Ketchikan Shipyard Feb. 21, 2014. The Alaska Marine Highway, roads, airports and other transportation projects could get a funding boost under Legislation moving in the state House. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

A measure setting up an Alaska Transportation Infrastructure Fund has gotten some traction in the House. But two companion bills are not seeing the same attention.

The resolution seeks to amend Alaska’s Constitution to create a fund that would pay for airport, highway and similar projects. If the measure passes the Legislature, it would go before voters in the November general election.

Wrangell Republican Representative Peggy Wilson is the main sponsor.

“We’re putting more and more people on roads that were designed for the ‘70s. Our ferries are old and well-maintained, but the older ferries cost a lot to maintain, and they’re coming to the end of their projected life expectancy.”

Wilson’s measure and two related bills call for setting up a $2 billion account. Continued funding would come from fuel taxes, license fees and similar payments.

The constitutional amendment passed out of the House Finance Committee on Friday. The two bills, which set up and put money in the fund, were before the committee earlier this month. They have not been scheduled for further hearings.

Committee member Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, said the fund is a bad approach to budgeting.

“The benefit of getting an amount of money for transportation that we would likely appropriate anyway, compared to the burden, which is a faster depletion of what might remain of our $17 billion in savings, weights in favor of protecting our savings and then funding transportation on an annual basis.”

At an earlier hearing, Wilson said she only expects to get the constitutional amendment through the Legislature this session.

To do that, she will have to get it passed by the full House and through the Senate.

“We understand this is not the year to ask for $2 billion. Even in a year with abundant revenue, this would be difficult. This endowment could be a lesser sum with the idea of adding to the endowment when our saving accounts are more flush,” she said.

The measure needs to go before the voters because Alaska’s Constitution prohibits dedicated funds.

Here are the three measures:

  • HJR 10 – Constitutional Amendment: Transportation Fund: Proposing amendments to the Constitution of the State of Alaska creating a transportation infrastructure fund.
  • HB 122 – Transport. Infrastructure Fund Appropriation: An Act making a special appropriation to the transportation infrastructure fund; and providing for an effective date.
  • HB 123 – Dedicated Transport Fund/Pub Transport: An Act relating to the transportation infrastructure fund, to local public transportation, to the municipal harbor facility grant fund, to motor fuel taxes, to the motor vehicle registration fee, to driver’s license fees, to identification card fees, to the studded tire tax, to the vehicle rental tax, and to other fees and taxes related to motor vehicles; creating the Alaska Transportation Panel; and providing for an effective date.

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