Juneau fares well at session end

Juneau and the Southeast region fared well by the 27th Alaska State Legislature.

Before the regular session ended, lawmakers appropriated $2.9 Billion for construction and maintenance projects statewide for the next fiscal year, and $450 million in general obligation bonds to be approved by voters next November.

Rosemarie Alexander takes a look at those destined for the capital city.

Juneau’s portion of the new public works budget is more than $100 million.

“And that’s an amazing feat for our delegation,” says Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan. He and Rep. Cathy Munoz and Beth Kerttula call themselves a good team for the capital city.

Part of Juneau’s largesse is $49-million for the so-called SLAM project — the new state library, archives and museum building. Total cost is estimated at more than $126 million, and it’s unclear exactly what work will be done with the current funds. But the project has long been a capital city priority and legislators say it’s a relief to see the money roll in.

Other Juneau projects include work on the downtown State Office Building, first phase of renovation of the Douglas Island office building, and other statewide facilities. City projects range from $7 million dollars for a Mendenhall Valley library to $100,000 for school computers. There’s money for the arts, local non-profits, even dust control for valley streets. Of course, Gov. Sean Parnell can veto any project he chooses.

Munoz is disappointed the legislature did not increase the base student allocation for school districts, but is enthusiastic about the state’s new scholarship fund. Last year lawmakers set up the program endowment; this year, they added structure.

“It’s a $400 million fund with a 7 percent payout. Two-thirds will go for merit based scholarships, and one-third will be for needs-based merit scholarships,” she says. “And those are direct grants that will be available for qualifying students for the entire time that they’re pursuing their degree or their certificate at an Alaskan post-secondary school.”

As a member of the Senate bi-partisan working group, Egan is pleased with progress made on the most controversial legislation, including oil taxes and his bill to reinstate a defined benefit retirement program for public employees.

The legislation would give employees an option of a 401-K style defined contribution, or the guaranteed pension. Juneau legislators have introduced the bill every session since 2007. This year it made it through the Senate.

“It was too late in the session to make it through the House but that’s the most progress that’s been made on anything like that in years, so I felt very happy about that and will attack it again next year,” Egan says.

The special session ended with House Majority Republicans and Gov. Parnell blaming the Senate for derailing the governor’s oil tax cut bill.

Kerttula, the House Democratic Minority Leader, says the Senate methodically and thoughtfully dealt with the contentious issue.

“They exposed the fallacies, they went forward and at the end they even put together a bill that would have helped new fields, which is what we have been told time and again is what would help production,” she says.

Juneau legislators say oil taxes will be back again next year, and they don’t like the finger-pointing that took place at the end of the session. But they’re looking beyond that to those projects that are sure to help heat up the Juneau economy.

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