Alaska lawmakers hoping to wrap up work

  • Fri Apr 25th, 2014 12:44pm
  • News

By Becky Bohrer Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska — State lawmakers aimed to wrap up their work and end the extended session after five days Friday.

Conference committee meetings on education and the Knik Arm bridge crossing advanced bills Friday morning, within minutes of each other, with floor sessions scheduled to follow.

The bridge bill, HB23, stripped the Knik Bridge Arm and Toll Authority of many of its powers, including right of eminent domain, and put the state transportation department in charge of building the proposed bridge from Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough instead. The financing structure would remain the same as that approved by the Senate earlier this month, including federal loans and funds and state bond proceeds, with the department authorized in the bill to pursue the loan.

If a bridge is built, it could be operated and managed by the authority, under the compromise bill.

The 90-day session was supposed to end Sunday, but lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on an education package, sending the session into overtime. On Wednesday, shortly after a tentative education deal was announced, the House failed to agree to Senate-passed changes for financing the bridge project, creating another wrinkle in plans to wrap things up and further fraying the nerves of lawmakers antsy to get home.

Another outstanding issue was the capital budget, which is typically one of the last pieces of legislation passed. It was expected to be the vehicle for additional education funding. An amendment was also expected related to funding that had been provided to the bridge and toll authority, said Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, the House’s lead negotiator on the bridge bill.

The education package calls for an additional $300 million in school aid over the next three years, divided between the per-student funding formula known as the base student allocation and funding outside the formula and for other programs and studies.