Alaska Legislature adjourns


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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Legislature adjourned Friday, ending an extended session after reaching compromises on education and a south-central Alaska bridge project.

The House adjourned first, gaveling out amid whoops and hollers around 3 p.m. Friday. The Senate followed suit about 50 minutes later, after signing off on the capital budget sent over by the House. Gov. Sean Parnell came down to congratulate lawmakers on finishing.

The 90-day session had been scheduled to end Sunday, but lawmakers went into overtime after failing to reach agreement on an education package.

Then, as a tentative agreement on education was announced Wednesday, the House rejected a Senate-approved financing plan for the proposed Knik Arm bridge project, creating another snag lawmakers needed to resolve. Both were wrapped up Friday.

The bridge bill, HB23, stripped the Knik Bridge Arm and Toll Authority of many of its powers, including right of eminent domain, and it put the state transportation department in charge of building the proposed bridge from Anchorage to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough instead.

The financing structure would remain the same as that approved by the Senate earlier this month, including federal loans and funds and state bond proceeds, with the department authorized in the bill to pursue the federal loans.

If a bridge is built, it could be operated and managed by the authority, under the compromise bill.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said in an interview that she wasn't comfortable eliminating the bridge authority entirely, but she thought it was a good idea to put the project under the purview of the department.

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, who, like McGuire, served on the conference committee, said the bill was an improvement but she still had concerns about the ultimate cost of the project.

The education package calls for an additional $300 million in school aid over the next three years, divided between the per-student funding formula — known as the base student allocation — and funding outside the formula and for other programs and studies. Supporters called it a good compromise.

It also included additional support for charter, residential and correspondence schools, and things such as funding for Internet services for schools with slower download speeds. But critics called it a flop, saying it fell short on funding needed to reverse cuts.

"Fail this bill," said Senate Minority Leader Hollis French, D-Anchorage. The compromise isn't visionary and looked like the easy way out, he said.

 

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