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Many questions: Big bond proposition hasn't been justified

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Posted: Sunday, November 4, 2012 1:00 am | Updated: 4:16 pm, Fri Jan 25, 2013.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial

Alaskans will be asked to commit themselves to borrowing almost half a billion dollars on Tuesday to pay for three dozen construction projects across the state. They should decline.

It’s impossible to judge the merits of the list of projects. A collection of this sort is best funded from the state’s annual income, preferably in accordance with some sort of rational, open ranking system. Stuffing them into a huge general obligation bond package that bypasses both the statewide transportation planning process and the annual legislative competition is not the right way to proceed.

General obligation bonds are those for which repayment is guaranteed by the credit of the state in general, unlike revenue bonds, which are backed by the specific revenue stream expected to be generated by a project. The authors of Alaska’s Constitution required that the state receive the approval of voters before issuing general obligation bonds. For big projects with statewide importance, it makes sense that voters should have a say before Alaska becomes committed to decades of debt.

However, Proposition A on Tuesday’s ballot doesn’t fit that mold. It’s a mish-mash of items, ranging in size from $1 million for a boat harbor at Hooper Bay on the Bering Sea coast to $50 million for the troubled Anchorage port expansion.

Perhaps one could make an argument that some of these projects have enough statewide import that they should be paid for with a statewide bond. But the entire collection? It’s hard to buy that.

In addition, few such arguments have been made. While we’ve heard from one group as Election Day approaches, there has been no broad effort to explain and justify these projects. How is the public supposed to judge them in an informed manner?

Finally, there are significant questions about some of the projects, including the largest Fairbanks-area item — $24 million for the “Old Steese Highway to McGrath Road Reconstruction and Extension.”

The project has become extremely controversial. It would sit just inside the eastern-most boundary line of Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge and would disrupt a number of the recreational trail routes in the refuge. Would a vote for the bond package be a vote for that route? DOT officials say no, but $24 million has a lot of momentum. In addition, if they’re correct, what exactly are we voting upon Tuesday?

We should have had the community discussion and nailed down the design before this was placed into the statewide bond package.

Alaskans don’t mind taking on debt for projects of statewide importance, but first they should have good information about those projects. The case for the bond proposition on Tuesday’s ballot hasn’t been made, and the information the public does have has raised too many questions.

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