Alaska State Senate advances budget bill

On Friday, the Alaska State Senate approved its version of the state’s capital budget.  The budget totals approximately $2.1 billion, and was revised twice in the Senate Finance Committee before proceeding to the floor for a vote.

Revisions included the subtraction of Governor Sean Parnell’s requested $32.7 million dollar supplement for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project and the addition of power generation upgrades for the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

There were two proposed amendments, only one of which drew debate.  That was the amendment made by Senator Bill Wielechowski to prevent the University of Alaska from raising tuition to help pay additional costs for the power plant upgrade.  Senators Wielechowski and French, both Democrats from Anchorage, argued that the extra cost for students is unwarranted at a time when nationwide attention is being paid to the debt that students are facing coming out of college.  The amendment failed 5 to 15.

Senator French called the budget “defensible,” but said that he believed the state could not afford some of the projects, specifically the Knik Arm Bridge and the Port MacKenzie Rail Extension.  The budget passed the Senate by a vote of 19-1, with Senator Wielechowski the only “nay.”

The budget bill will now go to the state House, who will have a chance to amend it further before final passage.

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