Don't Spend That Money Just Yet - Sen. Stevens Remains Optimistic About Money for the District
Posted 5.12.10 by Renewable Resources Coalition
Jobs created or expanded in this year’s proposed cash infusion from the Legislature likely would stretch over the next few years as construction projects tend to do — lending an economic trickle to benefit over time.
But don’t spend that money just yet, warned Sen. Gary Stevens during a visit to Homer on Tuesday to speak with business and civic leaders.
Alaska Senate President Stevens contends that this year’s $3 billion capital budget spending plan, though large, is prudent spending for Alaska’s lagging infrastructure.
Now, the wait is to watch what Gov. Sean Parnell will veto.
However, Stevens said there are two important reasons for the governor to not do too much slashing: One is that communities say they need these projects, many having waited for years to see funding. Secondly, they need the jobs.
“All the projects come through school districts and city governments who say they do need this school and they do need this harbor,” Stevens said. “(Legislators) don’t just sit back and pick these projects out of thin air. Alaska is a young state. We need the infrastructure.”
Years of neglecting to maintain public roads and buildings also takes its toll, he pointed out. Much of the spending relates to getting caught up on deferred maintenance projects.
“Those are two really important issues and why we wound up with a large capital budget,” he said. Meanwhile, the operating budget that pays for public safety, schools and all other state operations was kept near last year’s levels.
The state savings account now contains $12 billion, while the Alaska Permanent Fund stands at $35 billion.
“That’s a lot of money in savings,” Stevens said. “So many states out there wish they had even a portion of that.”
To stash more in savings while the state’s needs are left neglected would make about as much sense as “putting money into savings while your children are starving,” he noted.
In Homer, Stevens’ message was that this year’s spending isn’t out of control; it is “large but reasonable.” Nevertheless, the governor has disagreed, and has until mid-June to announce his vetoes. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
Parnell called Stevens into a meeting to talk about the budget and ask for recommendations on where to cut. Stevens said this was a routine visit that the governor made with the other 60 legislators as well, but the move shows a reasonable approach from Parnell.
“I’m impressed with this governor,” Stevens said. “He believes in being fair.”
On other matters, Stevens said he believes an independent study of the proposed Pebble Mine should be completed, but legislation and funding to require that didn’t pass the legislature this session. Assurance came from various departments, like Fish and Game and Natural Resources, that the power exists within the commissioners purview to stop Pebble if they need to, Stevens said. They have assured him they will do so.
“I still feel we need an independent scientific study as well,” he added, “That can be done, it just wasn’t funded.”
One matter close to Stevens’ heart was the governor’s merit scholarship program. Stevens, a retired history professor who made the final cut as a potential head of the University of Alaska system this spring, said he wanted to see additional provisions to help current college students struggling to pay tuition.
“We had letters and e-mails from all over the state telling of students struggling to stay in school,” he said.
Now, with the governor’s signature Monday, the beginning of this process has been signed into law. This means a task force will study how to implement a merit program, along with a needs-based one. It doesn’t yet allocate any money for scholarships, Stevens said.
“Hopefully we will have that complete so that next year at this time, it will be.”