By wide, bipartisan margin, Alaska House puts finishing touches on state capital budget

By: James Brooks/Alaska Beacon

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, speaks in favor of Senate Bill 48, the carbon credits bill, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in the Alaska House. At background is Department of Resources Commissioner John Boyle and staff supporting the bill. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Juneau, Alaska (Alaska Beacon) -The Alaska House of Representatives approved a major increase to state spending on school repairs and renewable energy on Tuesday as it voted 39-1 to approve a $552 million capital budget.

The capital budget, which pays for construction and renovation projects statewide, exceeds $4 billion if federal funding is included. 

Amendments adopted by the House Finance Committee boosted spending on school maintenance to the highest total since 2011, added millions to a renewable energy grant fund, and earmarked money for legislators’ pet projects across the state.

In one case, “pet project” was literal: The capital budget includes more than $1.4 million for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The budget, already passed by the Senate, now returns there, where lawmakers will be asked to confirm about $107 million in changes adopted by the House. 

None of the House’s additions were controversial, and the Senate’s concurrence is expected. 

The Senate’s concurrence vote is traditionally one of the last actions before the Alaska Legislature adjourns its regular session, though it could be taken earlier. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy will have the last say on the budget; he may veto or reduce individual items in the capital budget, which includes spending in the current fiscal year (ending June 30) and in the upcoming fiscal year, which runs from July 1 through June 30, 2025.

“By and large, this entire budget is built around life, health and safety needs around the state,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham and the House Finance co-chair in charge of the capital budget.

The final document was praised by Republicans, Democrats and independents. Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage and a member of the House’s minority caucus, said, “This has been a very inclusive, bipartisan capital budget, and I think we should continue that pattern going forward.”

The lone voice in opposition came from Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla. Eastman is not a member of either the majority caucus or minority caucus and said he believes more money should have been spent on the Permanent Fund dividend, rather than individual projects.

“What happened in this capital budget process sure sounds like monopoly money,” he said, echoing comments that he said were first given by one of his constituents.

But even conservative Republicans who often vote similarly to Eastman said they supported the budget.

“To me, it’s a little bit disingenuous to put the PFD against this,” said Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake. 

He said there are “absolutely” bits of “fluff” in the budget, but most of it deals with infrastructure projects and life and safety issues, such as a fire station in his district.

Edgmon said the resulting document is a “significant step” toward ending the legislative session on time. May 15 is the last regular day of the session.