Living in an urban area, it can be difficult to imagine the obstacles that are daily elements of living in rural Alaska. If you travel outside of urban areas, you will see structures and roads dating back to statehood that have slowly been eroded by time and adverse weather, with little or no maintenance. You will travel on roads that are worn and broken down by bitter winters of cold, frost, and snow, where painted rocks serve as hazard markers for drivers.
In urban Alaska, we also face challenges of maintaining our current infrastructure and buildings, and the obstacles due to population growth and limited land availability. New streets and continued maintenance and upgrades are needed to deal with the traffic congestion in many areas of Anchorage.
This year, given the opportunity provided by high oil prices, the Legislature was able to fulfill its goal of assisting communities with capital infrastructure needs. This year’s capital budget furthers our commitment to providing safe schools for our children, building and maintaining our infrastructure, and ensuring responsible and sustainable economic growth.
I feel that the most important element of this year’s capital budget is our continued emphasis on education. We invested almost $100 million for school construction, deferred maintenance, and grants for textbooks, technology, and safety upgrades. This is in addition to the $70 million increase to education funding, approved unanimously by the Legislature.
Through the continuation of the 70/30-school bond debt reimbursement program, the state will work with local communities to finance new schools and provide safer learning environments and modern facilities for our children, teachers and staff.
Our effort to fulfill our commitment to education extends to other educational forums. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art received a $5 million grant to assist with the museum expansion project. The residents of Girdwood received a $1 million grant for a community center and a library.
The University of Alaska received approximately $21.6 million for the first phase of construction of an integrated science facility in Anchorage. An additional $28.4 million will go towards the construction and expansion of classrooms on campuses statewide.
In considering the infrastructure needs of our state, roads, docks, harbors, and safe water programs received a boost in funding to assist communities in upgrading these important facilities that will benefit every sector of life in our state.
Approximately $200 million is appropriated for new construction and maintenance of our roads. The road projects that are funded will relieve congestion in some of the worst areas of Anchorage; provide safer roadways to smaller communities; improve access to natural resources; and new avenues for recreational and economic development.
Ports, docks and harbors serve hundreds of thousands of Alaskans each year and are vital to local and state economies. Locally, the Port of Anchorage received a $10 million appropriation for expansion and upgrades of the current facilities.
The members of the Legislature realize that healthy recreational opportunities are important to our way of life. Investing in the maintenance of parks, trails, and recreational facilities improves the quality of life for all Alaskans. Funding for ball fields, multi-use facilities, hatcheries, state parks, campgrounds, trails and access points exceeds $9 million.
Aside from infrastructure and public works, the Legislature provided additional monetary assistance to municipalities. Each municipality will receive a grant to offset the increased costs associated with the Public Employees Retirement System. In total, $18 million will go to assisting local governments.
Approximately $650 million of state funds will be used to fulfill longstanding needs in our communities: critical school construction and maintenance; necessary infrastructure upgrades; projects that increase quality of life for Alaskans; and the opportunity for sustainable economic growth through jobs. Jobs for Alaskans like you and me.
For years, the Legislature and the administration have talked about moving Alaska forward. We were able to fund the important needs of our state, while still saving $100 million of surplus revenue. This year’s capital budget is the best example of putting our resources to work, for Alaska.
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