Southeast wins, loses in capital budget

Juneau Reps. Beth Kerttula, left, and Cathy Munoz, right, listen as Sen. Dennis Egan addresses budget issues during Wednesday’s Native Issues Forum in Juneau. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News.

Southeast communities won and lost when the Senate Finance Committee released its capital budget this week. Some projects proposed by the governor were cut, but others were added. 

Every year, Alaska lawmakers collect want-and-need lists from communities, organizations and individuals in their districts.

It’s been much the same this year.

“There’s close to $50 million in requests from Juneau alone,” says Dennis Egan, who represents the capital city and several other Southeast communities in the state Senate.

“There’s $43 million from Petersburg. Tenakee has requested money. Right now I have a restroom for Gustavus. But there are other requests from Gustavus as well,” says Egan, noting Skagway also sent him a list of projects.

“It is a tough year,” says House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, who represents the same communities. “I guess I can be the bearer of bad news. This year, many capital projects that we would have absolutely hoped to fund will not be funded.”

(Read the project list by House District. Southeast districts are 31-34.)

The Senate Finance Committee’s capital budget added some Southeast projects to the list proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell in December.

There’s $73,000 for that Gustavus restroom, $10 million toward Ketchikan’s Medical Center addition and $2.5 million for Petersburg’s police station and jail.

Egan, a former Senate Finance Committee member, says the panel also inserted money for regional hydroprojects — after being lobbied.

“It went out, it’s back in now, and at this time — but things change, especially near end of the session — it includes three Southeast projects,” Egan says.

There’s $4 million toward Sitka’s Blue Lake expansion, almost $7 million for Hoonah’s Gartina Falls development, and $3.3 million toward Tenakee Springs’ Indian River hydro.

But along with the additions, Senate Finance removed some projects from the governor’s budget.

It cut $10 million toward a highway north out of Juneau and $3 million for Ketchikan’s Shoenbar Road water, and sewer project. Also removed was about $1.4 million for a pair of Sitka road projects.

Figures from the Legislature show Southeast capital spending totaling about $195 million. That includes around $20 million in additions and $4 million in cuts.

Lawmakers usually add smaller amounts, such as grants for nonprofit groups, to what Senate Finance drafts.

Egan says, maybe not this year.

“We were told a few days ago that there would be no discretionary funding on the Senate side this year. I hope that’s not the case. We’re working hard on trying to get it back,” he says.

Juneau Rep. Cathy Muñoz, a House Finance Committee member, says she won’t be able to contribute much.

“The community project money, we have not yet been told what that amount will be for this year. But we have been told it will be less than previous years,” Muñoz says.

One of the largest projects in the region is the new State Library, Archives and Museum facility, known as SLAM.

It’s in for $20 million. But Egan says it’s listed as a Juneau project.

“It’s a statewide project. And we’re having issues right now about a change that was made to include that statewide project into our budget. We don’t think that’s correct.”

That makes Juneau’s total appear larger than it is, and could displace other projects within the district.

Both chambers of the Legislature have to pass the same version of the capital budget for it to be finalized. So there may still be some room for some additional funding.

Of course, the governor can veto projects he deems untimely or unnecessary. 

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