Homer Electric Association’s $12.5 million request for upgrades was among several local cuts in Gov. Sarah Palin’s capital budget for 2009.
This is the third year in a row HEA’s request was denied, though the money was to come from the long-established Railbelt Energy Fund and not from this year’s revenue purse.
Among other casualties was the Homer Hockey Association’s request for $15,000 for a Zamboni blade-sharpener.
Referring to the removal of dwarf Mugho pines at Klatt Elementary School in Anchorage and the blade-sharpener for the Homer Hockey Association, Gov. Palin said “killer shrubs and Zamboni blades” had no business in the capital budget.
“Even with a surplus as fat as Alaska’s, some pork is just too embarrassing,” she was quoted as saying in the Anchorage Daily News.
According to Homer Hockey Association President Cinda Eckert, the blade issue was a scaling back of the original request and “sort of backfired.”
“It’s one of those things that isn’t absolutely necessary to operate,” Eckert explained. “Our original request was for capital money to help purchase the building, which is necessary in order to stay open.”
Following talks with Reps. Gary Stevens and Paul Seaton, HHA backed off its $50,000-$100,000 request, and settled on the blade sharpener. The hope was to gain something after a beleaguering year of trying to keep the rink open. Eckert said Stevens and Seaton did not believe they could get the rink the cash in this year’s capital budget.
Sharpening the blade used to grade ice at the rink normally requires $4,500-$5,000 per year, as it involves transporting it to Soldotna every 10 days and paying the $100 fee, she said.
Rail belt fund monies can only be accessed through the capital budget, Seaton said.
“We anticipated HEA’s requests all would be vetoed, but we wanted it in the budget anyway. The governor’s energy coordinator is making recommendations on how to utilize the funds before she is going to approve distribution. That’s for the long term plan,” Seaton said. “I too was disappointed.”
A $25 million request for a Matanuska Electric Association upgrade from the transmission upgrade also went unmet, and Seaton said that is fair because all the upgrades should be reviewed at the same time.
At this point, the utilities will have to wait until the Railbelt Energy Grid Study is complete in November, Seaton said.
Seaton agrees the HEA cuts were troubling in an energy-crisis year, considering that the legislature is now being asked to go into a special session later this summer to consider bail-out options for utilities and struggling consumers.
“We’re disappointed in this budget cut,” HEA spokesman Joe Gallagher said. “This money was earmarked for improvement to the distribution and transmission system to serve Tesoro and Conoco Phillips, so we were hoping for state money to proceed.”
The $68 million railbelt fund was established in 1985 to help expand the energy grid. HEA’s request originated in 2005, with then-governor Frank Murkowski vetoing the request. It was again denied in 2007 and now in 2008.
Along with axed funding for the new Kachemak cable replacement project of $1.1 million, and the hazardous tree removal project at $250,000, a disappointed HEA has some painful numbers to review in the weeks ahead.
“Now that governor has announced the vetoes, this is a situation where HEA will have to regroup, speak with staff and legislators and take a look at this project to determine how to proceed,” Gallagher said.
Palin justified her $2.7 billion capital budget in a Friday press release, saying this time of unprecedented resource revenue will allow Alaska to catch up on deferred maintenance, transportation and infrastructure projects.
On Friday, Palin signed an $11 billion operating budget, along with the $2.7 billion capital budget for fiscal year 2009 which starts July 1. She vetoed $2.6 million from the operating budget and rejected $265 million in projects from the capital budget.
“I commend legislators for committing $5 billion to savings and for focusing a significant portion of their proposed spending on the key priorities of public safety, education and infrastructure,” Palin said. “I appreciate that legislators acknowledged that nothing in this budget was veto-proof. Our comprehensive review of the budgets confirmed that those legislators who prioritized projects made a concerted effort to follow new guidelines in making changes to the budget process and we appreciate their desire to do things better.”
The FY2009 Operating Budget Bill totals $11.1 billion and includes funding for public education, the university system, public health and safety, transportation and resource development.
Other cuts include:
• $250,000 for HEA hazardous tree removal
• $1.1 million for South Kachemak cable replacement project
• $50,000 for Kachemak Emergency Services Personal Protection Equipment
• $50,000 for Homer Senior Citizens’ housing land purchase
• $10,225 for SPH’s cell phone repeater antenna
• $10,000 for road improvements to Caribou Hills Access Trail
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