Politics

Gov. Dunleavy proposes special election on proposal to borrow $356 million for construction projects

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has introduced a proposal to borrow $356.4 million for a variety of construction projects across the state. The plan is envisioned as a way to take advantage of relatively low interest rates to spur the state’s economy during an ongoing recession.

The proposal also calls for a special election this spring or summer, allowing voters to ratify or reject the plan, which would cost the state $22.8 million per year.

“If ratified, these projects will benefit Alaskans statewide by stimulating our economy, stabilizing our construction industry, and improving transportation, education and other critical facilities throughout the state,” the governor said in a letter proposing the package.

Among the projects partially or wholly funded in the governor’s proposal:

• $9 million to replace Houston Middle School, which was condemned after the 2018 Southcentral Alaska earthquake;

• $25 million for K-12 projects on the state’s major maintenance list. There are 108 projects on the list, and the state’s share of the whole list is over $187 million.

• $8.5 million for a road extending toward mining prospects in the western Matanuska-Susitna Borough;

• $18.9 million for the Fairbanks Youth Facility;

• $30 million for projects at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Anchorage;

• $13.2 million to construct a trail between Fairbanks and Seward.

In past bond proposals, the Alaska Legislature has significantly altered the list of projects.

If a borrowing plan passes the Senate and House, it must also be approved by voters statewide, and the governor is proposing a special election this summer to speed the process. That election would take place between 90 and 120 days after the Legislature adjourns its regular session.

Such an election could also include a separate advisory vote on the future of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, something proposed separately by the governor. The Division of Elections has estimated that it will cost $2 million to hold a special election.

The Alaska House of Representatives remains unorganized and unable to formally consider the borrowing proposal.

In the Senate, the proposal has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee for consideration. Initial reactions among senators were mixed.

“I’m not really a debt guy. But frankly, money’s almost free right now,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, referring to low interest rates. “If there’s a time where it makes sense to get Alaskans back to work, there’s probably not a better time than right now.”

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, said on social media that he would like the Legislature to consider changing the mix of projects. His district, which covers northern Southeast Alaska, has about 5% of the state’s population but would receive less than 0.6% of the money from the borrowing plan.

“We have a LOT of work to do,” he wrote.

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