There's money in Gov. Mike Dunleavy's bond proposal package for projects like the one taking place at Aurora Harbor, seen here in this Nov. 5, 2020, photo, but Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, doesn't think there's enough local investment. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Governor’s $356M bond proposal gets cool reaction from lawmakers

Legislators cautious on revisions, additions

Gov. Mike Dunleavy released the list of projects that could potentially be part of the $350 million bond proposal the governor has offered as a stimulus plan to jumpstart the state’s economy.

“This statewide bond package is essential to stabilizing our economy and putting Alaskans back to work following the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “Not only will this proposal create jobs, it will improve critical infrastructure for all Alaskans.”

In the past, Dunleavy has said the package is meant to stimulate the state’s economy after the coronavirus pandemic. Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff Ben Stevens told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce last month the administration was looking at shovel-ready projects in order to get people working as soon as possible.

The total proposal amounts to $356,405,952, the governor’s office said in a statement and will be eligible for a federal match of $1,003,471,000. The proposed list contains allocations for specific projects, such as the Fairbanks Pioneer Home, but also lists larger amounts for certain areas but not specific projects. The governor’s proposal shows $25 million going to the School Major Maintenance Grant Fund and $14 million to municipal harbor grants but does not detail in full how those amounts will be distributed within those categories.

Juneau doesn’t appear anywhere in the text of the bill, but that doesn’t mean there’s no money for the borough, according to Dunleavy spokesman Jeff Turner. Some of the money set aside for the Municipal Harbor Grants Program will go to Juneau, he said.

“Juneau will also benefit from additional funding through various state departments that receive federal COVID economic relief funds,” Turner said in an email. “While those appropriations have not been determined yet, Juneau and other Southeast communities will see meaningful funding in the months ahead.”

The governor’s list of proposals was designed to strike a regional balance and meet the immediate needs of communities around the state, Turner said.

[Proposed bonds would fund ‘shovel-ready’ projects, says governor’s chief of staff]

But Juneau’s state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Democrat, said he believes the Legislature has a lot of work to do before sending the bond package to Alaskans for a vote.

“Five percent of Alaskans call our district home,” Kiehl said in a phone interview Friday, “The only project in Northern Southeast (Alaska) is one-half, of one-third, of one harbor project. “

Kiehl is referring to the third phase of Juneau’s maintenance project at Aurora Harbor, which appeared on a list of priority projects submitted to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly last week by CBJ Engineering & Public Works Director Katie Koester. That list also specified items like a new City Hall and expansions to Centennial Hallas priorities, but none of the items on Juneau’s list appear specifically in the governor’s proposal.

Juneau was eligible for harbor grants Kiehl said, which require the municipality to pay for 50% of the project. But the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities which administers the grants, already had a ranked list of projects based on need, Kiehl said, and the amount in the governor’s proposal matched the amount for projects from that list. Under the current proposal only the last phase of Juneau’s harbor project received funding, he said.

“I’m concerned the total package of the project apparently doesn’t show any desire to invest in Northern Southeast,” Kiehl said.

City and Borough of Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt said Friday he hadn’t had a chance to delve into the list, but that the city generally favors funding through the harbor grants program.

The state had a similar list of projects ranked by need for school projects, Watt said, and while formulas for school funding can be complicated, the amount proposed for the major maintenance grants, $25 million, wouldn’t cover much locally.

“I would not expect that that $25 million would amount to much in any one district,” he said.

[Docks and Harbors readies for winter]

Even if the Legislature passes a bond package Alaskan voters must approve it first. State law says a vote must be held with 90-120 days of the body adjourning. In December, the Alaska Municipal League sent a letter to the governor that broadly supported the bond package, but noted the state had already reduced its payments on debt owed to cities from previous school bonds.

The projects proposed by the governor could be changed by the Legislature, and the final bond package must be approved by a public vote. Speaking Friday morning before seeing the actual proposed list, Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said in a news conference he was concerned about the size of the package growing beyond $350 million.

“One of my fears of the bond package discussion is setting up a feeding frenzy,” Micciche said. “It’s going to require discipline by the Legislature to be reasonable as to what that package looks like.”

Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, who met with reporters alongside Micciche said she shared his concern about the bond package growing and that she would be looking at specific projects with long-term impacts.

“Is it just to give people jobs right now? Or is it something that actually in the long term would provide economic opportunities for Alaskans?” she asked.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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