- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - The municipality of Anchorage could be the last community to be reimbursed for new school bonds before a five-year hiatus, but the House speaker hinted this may not yet be a done deal.

Alaska’s House voted Thursday in favor of Senate Bill 64, which would halt the state’s practice of partial repayments on school maintenance and construction bonds for five years, and then reduce the reimbursement rate after that. An effort to make that effective immediately failed when it received just 24 votes, instead of the 27 needed, so the bill won’t become law for 90 days.

As things stand now, the state could be on the hook for its share of a nearly $60 million bond package that Anchorage voters will consider Tuesday, according to an aide to Sen. Anna MacKinnon, whose committee sponsored the bill.

A memo from the Legislature’s Legal Services division said the immediate effective date needed to pass both the House and Senate, and the governor needed to sign the bill before the election to prevent a constitutional issue in backdating the hiatus to avoid paying for the Anchorage bonds.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said lawmakers were working on another possible solution to prevent the state from having to include Anchorage in the bond reimbursement pool before halting the program, but he wouldn’t provide details Thursday afternoon.

The bill passed the Senate last week. Gov. Bill Walker’s spokeswoman had no comment on whether the governor would sign it since it hasn’t reached his desk yet.

Thursday was the second time the House voted on the bill and when it would go into effect. Lawmakers on Wednesday couldn’t get the 27 votes - or two-thirds majority to make it effectively immediately.

Chenault said he thought the legislators working on the bill had the votes to pass the effective date when they said they wanted to proceed with the reconsideration vote Thursday, but that ultimately wasn’t the case.

Mike Abbott, chief operating officer for the Anchorage School District, said Thursday afternoon that the district had just heard about the vote and was still looking at what it would mean for reimbursement of the bond package. Overall, however, Abbott said the school district valued the state’s reimbursements, and was concerned about the hiatus.

The bill was sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee and introduced in March, and proponents have portrayed it as a way to help curb state spending. The state faces a $3.5 billion dollar deficit due to a decline in oil prices, and Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, said that his role in Juneau was to help control spending, not increase it.

But others pointed to the need for school maintenance. Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said he thought the five-year hiatus could just lead to more projects to pay off when the program is reinstated after five years of neglected maintenance at schools.

The reimbursements don’t occur until the municipality has started making payments, and they are subject to the Legislature appropriating the money for them.


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