Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

 
 

Thomas: Projects money may drop; Slimmer governorbs budget, cruise tax cuts the cause

 

January 6, 2011



Loss of cruise ship head tax revenues and a leaner proposed spending plan by Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell will likely equate to a drop in state spending on local projects.

"It’s early yet, but the concern is we’ve done well in Haines the last six years. We’ve been averaging $10 million to $13 million. It’ll probably be down because that’s a lot to throw into a small community," state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, said this week.

In his proposed budget last year, Parnell penciled in $13 million for Haines that included projects ranging from $7.4 million in airport repairs, $1 million for Haines Highway work and $2.9 million in projects paid for with head tax money.

Parnell’s new proposed budget includes nothing for Haines, but that doesn’t mean no capital funds will be forthcoming.

Thomas said he expects to get $30-$60 million in capital spending for his district, compared to $50 million last year. The Haines Borough Assembly’s legislative wish list has been pared to three items this year: road upgrades, boat harbor improvements and a Lutak port facility master plan.

Thomas called that a reasonable approach. "We’ll be looking at what we can afford to do. I told people if you think you’re going to get $10 million for a single project, you’re crazy," Thomas said.

A notable exception is $10 million budgeted by Gov. Parnell for improvements to the Skagway ore dock to allow ore and cruise ships to dock at the same time. Thomas said that money is contingent on a lease agreement between White Pass and the Skagway Borough, but also is possible because the town has invested in a port development plan.

"Skagway is well ahead of everybody. You can’t take it away from them for being active," he said.

Haines Borough is seeking $250,000 from the legislature for the Lutak port plan, but Thomas said the municipality should dig into its own pockets for that funding. "I’d rather them spend their money than wait for it" to come through legislators, he said.

Some legislators already are talking about floating general obligation bonds for port improvements statewide, a funding mechanism requiring statewide taxpayer approval. Haines would be well-situated to be included in such bonds, but projects should be ready to build, he said.

Haines and Skagway are among the top candidates of ports statewide for transit of materials for a natural gas pipeline project. Haines also is closer to some Yukon Territory mineral developments than Skagway, Thomas said.

Roads are at the top of the borough’s list, with pending projects including Mission and Willard streets and Third Avenue. Thomas, though, said his top priorities will be repaving Lynnview and View streets. "Those are the ones people have come in and talked to me about."

Additional road work "depends on how far down (the borough’s $1.8 million) list (of road projects) we get," Thomas said.

He said he also favors $1 million for Chilkoot corridor improvements, including a bear-viewing platform near Deer Rock. A recent conceptual design developed by the Division of Parks would add 10 parking spaces and a deck and walkways extending 270 feet. "That’s a public health and safety thing," Thomas said.

Thomas said this week he wasn’t sure what funds the borough was seeking in boat harbor improvements from the legislature. "We could put in for it." He said he supports a west-side retaining wall in the existing basin where troll boats could tie up.

Small Boat Harbor committee member Jim Studley said this week project needs include additional engineering study that could significantly reduce the estimated costs, and uplands work to shift parking areas southeast.

Thomas said he expects to get capital funding requests from local groups including the Southeast Alaska State Fair, American Bald Eagle Foundation, American Legion, Boy Scouts "and there are other groups, I’m sure," he said.

Thomas, who was recently named co-chair of the House Finance Committee, said he may be able to influence local spending through the state operating budget, which he will oversee.

Thomas said he opposes a recent proposal by Gov. Parnell to combine the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sportfish and commercial fish divisions. He said that would be mixing state and federal money and also would set up potential conflicts for state managers.

Also during the interview, Thomas was critical of borough spending to acquire parts of Picture Point. Thomas said money to set aside scenic lookouts there would be better spent on the Lutak port master plan.

The 27th session of the Alaska Legislature starts Jan. 18 and ends April 17. Thomas said Haines constituents can best reach him by calling aide Jessie Badger at his Main Street office, 766-3581. The office will remain open during the session.