Voters Will Consider $453M Transportation Bond Package
FAIRBANKS — Political attitudes may come and go in Alaska, but not much has been as consistently popular with the state’s voters as a transportation bond package.
Since statehood, Alaska voters have only turned down one loan package to pay for transportation items, and that thumbs-down happened all the way back in 1968. In that case, the rejected ferry construction project needed to wait only until the next general election, in 1970, for approval.
“You can look at no other kind of bond that’s as popular with the public,” said John MacKinnon, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska.
The latest measure, Bonding Proposition A, will go before voters on Tuesday. It will ask whether the state should borrow $453 million for a package of 36 construction projects throughout Alaska.
The biggest item in the package, which includes projects throughout the state, is a $50 million expansion of the Port of Anchorage. It also includes four projects in the Fairbanks area that total about $50 million.
MacKinnon, whose organization represents Alaska contractors, is an enthusiastic supporter. He thinks voters will be, too.
Representative Mike Doogan, an Anchorage Democrat who voted “no” when the bond measure came forward for a House vote, has been critical of the measure.
With billions in state savings, Doogan said it doesn’t make any sense to take out a loan — even one with low interest — to pay for capital projects. Doogan said it’s an approach in which legislators can spread the impact of their spending decisions out over decades, which he believes is an irresponsible practice.
In addition to forwarding the bond package to voters, the Legislature approved $2.9 billion in spending on a variety of other capital projects last session. Doogan said the items in the transportation bond could have easily been added to that budget.
“It’s just politics, that’s all it is,” said Doogan, who isn’t running for re-election. “It’s not wise fiscal policy, it’s not trying to save money for the future. It’s nothing like that.”
Doogan, however, didn’t get any of his colleagues to agree. The Senate voted unanimously to forward the bond measure to voters, and the House approved the move by a 38-1 vote. Doogan also voted for the final version, saying he didn’t see the point of standing in the way of its inevitable passage.
MacKinnon, who was deputy commissioner of DOT under Gov. Frank Murkowski, said there’s a reason why transportation packages tend to win support from both voters and lawmakers — Alaska is “starved for transportation.” The state has about 14,000 road miles, less than Vermont, he said.
“That kind of tells you how we’re hurting, and transportation affects everyone, every day,” he said.
MacKinnon also credits the Legislature’s willingness to fund transportation projects as a factor that helped the state weather the global recession.
“It has really helped keep Alaska from getting kicked with the recession that the rest of the country was hit with,” he said.