Alaska governor proposes maintenance fund

AP News
Posted: Nov 13, 2009 10:30 AM

Gov. Sean Parnell on Thursday proposed spending $100 million annually for five years on maintenance needs that have been ignored at Alaska's state-owned buildings and facilities.

"We have not as a state had a predictable deferred maintenance plan," Parnell said at a press conference at the University of Alaska Anchorage. "I think it only makes sense to take care of the state's assets, to fix what we have."

Counting university structures, the state has more than 2,300 public buildings with a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $1.8 billion dollars, Parnell said.

He proposes the $100 million appropriation in the capital budget during the next budget cycle and for four years after that. Under Parnell's plan, more than $37 million would be steered to the university next year.

The university has nearly 400 buildings, he said, with an estimated replacement value of $2.6 billion. Some need to be fixed to meet building codes.

University spokeswoman Kate Ripley said Parnell's announcement was welcome news. More than half of the system's buildings are at least 30 years old.

"Maintaining or existing facilities has been the No. 1 request on the regents' lists," she said.

The university this year received $3.2 million for maintenance. The university estimates it needs $50 million annually to maintain its 6.7 million gross square feet in facilities. The disparity has led to a backlog of $900 million in deferred maintenance, Ripley said.

"That's what happens when you don't have the money to keep things fixed," she said.

UA Anchorage Chancellor Fran Ulmer, a former lieutenant governor and Juneau state representative, said the university has lost ground over several decades maintaining facilities.

"Legislators want to introduce capital budgets that add facilities in their districts," Ulmer said.

The Transportation Department has deferred maintenance for everything from guardrails, culverts and bridges to harbors and marine highway facilities.

"These jobs are hammer-ready and they'll amount to decreasing operating and maintenance costs," Parnell said.

The plan will give Alaska's construction industry jobs they can depend on for the five years, he said.

"This will be a stand-alone section of my budget. I will shine a spotlight on it. It's going to be a priority," he said.

Parnell planned a public announcement of his plan at the annual meeting of the Associated General Contractors. He said the speech, planned more for then a month, kept him from greeting President Barack Obama, who landed Thursday afternoon at Elmendorf Air Force Base on his way to Japan.

"When the president was originally scheduled to be here on the 11th, which was yesterday, we had asked for a meeting with him and asked to be included," Parnell said. "Because of the Fort Hood events, his schedule shifted. They are locking down the base right in the midst of the time that I committed to speaking, and so that's why I've extended an invitation to speak with him the next time he comes through Alaska."