JUNEAU -- After a big buildup, there was no committee action Wednesday to advance a Knik Arm bridge bill, but House Republicans said just wait till Thursday.
The House Rules Committee had been scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to vote to dismantle the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority and reassemble its parts in the Alaska Housing Finance Corp.
But the Rules committee, a place to fix troubled bills -- especially when quick action is needed in the waning days of session -- delayed action from Wednesday morning to afternoon, and then from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning. The dismantling and reassembling was still on the agenda for the Thursday morning session.
The source of the trouble was House Bill 23. Sponsor Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, said the bill was necessary to get a low-interest federal transportation loan of $350 million. The bill also authorized sale of $600 million in bonds. With those steps taken, a KABATA official testified Tuesday, the two-lane crossing between Anchorage and Point Mackenzie could go to bid by summer.
An identical bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 13, had been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday but was also pulled.
Neuman's bill crashed on Saturday with the release of an audit that exposed serious problems with KABATA's management of the project, including over-optimistic traffic and toll projections.
Neuman, a non-voting member of the KABATA board, disagreed with the audit, but not many people appeared to be listening to him in the House. Rep. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, offered the amendment Tuesday to dismantle KABATA and shift the project to the AHFC, an agency that House and Senate Republicans trusted with an earlier troubled project, the in-state gas line.
Rules Chairman Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said one reason for the delay was to assure that the federal loan wouldn't be put in jeopardy by the bridge's new address in AHFC. If it was, he said, the House would drop the agency shift and take the bill to floor as is, even if the floor vote was uncertain.
But Wednesday afternoon, a new version of the agency-change amendment surfaced. It was a trim eight pages, cleaned up from the barely comprehensible 22-page version that was rushed out Tuesday.
Senate Democrats, at their weekly news conference, had fun at the Republicans' expense over their fondness for the AHFC and its director, Dan Fauske -- though the Democrats too described him as highly capable.
"Maybe the Republicans will advocate just moving the entire state government to Dan Fauske and AHFC. He apparently has become the Republicans' czar of competence," said the Senate minority leader, Johnny Ellis of Anchorage.
Costello's amendment creates a new public corporation inside AHFC, the Knik Crossing Development Corp. That follows the model for the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., created by Fauske inside the AHFC when he picked up that project in 2010.
Costello's amendment authorizes the KABATA board to continue on as advisors for a year to the new corporation, entitled only to receive expenses.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or in Juneau at (907) 500-7388.
By RICHARD MAUER