Kaboom Kapow KABTA?

For nearly a century, those who were wired that way–and Alaska always had plenty of that type of wiring–dreamed of a bridge over the Cook Inlet, connecting Anchorage to the mysterious swath of land in the Mat-Su Valley. (One particularly creative idea in the 1960s involved a monorail that would connect Anchorage to a domed, temperature-controlled community.)

If nothing else, you’ve got to give the Kink Arm Bridge and Toll Authority kudos for coming as close as you can get to bridging the divide. If the agency’s bill passed this session–and for awhile it looked like it might–the authority would have been well on its way to building the $1.6 billion bridge (others have estimated the cost to be much more). Had the bill passed, KABATA would have been authorized to sell $600 million in bonds and the state would have set up a reserve fund to pay for the agencies costs. And it likely would have been the agency’s last dance in front of the legislature, for awhile at least.

But as everyone knows, close doesn’t cut it and neither did what appears now to be an ill-fated agency. It’s not a done deal yet, but on Thursday morning, the House Rules Committee is set to vote on an amendment which would put KABATA in the hands of the state agency du jour, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, run by the man of the moment Dan Fauske.

The buzz is that it’s a fait accompli, as are most bills by the time they make it to Rules.

Fauske is prepared to set up yet another state agency under AHFC that would take over the project and give it a fresh look. KABATA was created by Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2003, and seeded with $110 million in state and federal funds. Since, it has amassed more than $56 million state funded assets.

Ostensibly, the problems with the bridge and the agency arose after a scathing legislative audit concluded that KABATA’s projected revenue through tolls were overly optimistic.

But many legislators had been leery of the project and the agency since its inception and it only got worse as the numbers KABATA released continually bumped up against conflicting numbers and as the agency became increasingly defensive about the project and how it was going to be funded.

Increasingly, it appeared that those who ran KABATA were seen less as objective, trusted stewards of state resources than a group hell bent on getting a project underway, regardless of cost.

What all this means to the fate of the bridge, and the enormous number of bills still yet to pass out of various committees, remains to be seen. The Mat-Su Valley delegation, which has supported KABATA and the bridge,  is a powerful one this year. The delegation is led by Senate President, Charlie Huggins, and House Finance Chairman Bill Stoltze.

Stoltze’s committee still has possession of the oil tax bill and the capital budget, which gives him significant added influence this time of the year.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


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