Legislature(2001 - 2002)
04/17/2001 01:20 PM TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 88-METROPOLITAN PLANNING ORGANIZATIONS CHAIR KOHRING announced that the next order of business would be SENATE BILL NO. 88, "An Act relating to metropolitan planning organizations and to establishment of a metropolitan planning organization for the Anchorage metropolitan area; and providing for an effective date." Number 1863 SENATOR RANDY PHILLIPS, sponsor of the bill, stated that SB 88 passed out of the Senate last week. He explained that the purpose of SB 88 is to assist AMATS (Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Study), which only Anchorage qualifies for, by adding one Senate member and one House member from the Anchorage area to the AMATS committee. Currently, the AMATS committee consists of five members: the mayor, two assembly people, and one appointed position from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and one from the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF). SENATOR PHILLIPS commented that more direct representation is needed from the legislature in the roads and projects process, because they are delayed. He went on to say that two of the five appointed committee members are not "held accountable directly to the people," which he does not think is appropriate. This has led to a lot of frustration over the past ten years. SENATOR PHILLIPS mentioned a project that was supposed to occur in Eagle River and Muldoon last year, but that got "bumped down or sideways" on the list, which upset a lot of constituents who were counting on it happening at a certain time. The constituents then contacted their legislators who couldn't do anything about the situation, because of the way the process is set up. He said: So, in order for constituents to have a more direct say in what's going on, I propose this bill to simply add one senator, [and] one house member, and increase the policy committee from five to seven. SENATOR PHILLIPS acknowledged that those outside the Anchorage area might view this issue as an Anchorage fight. However, "It will be coming to your neighborhood, maybe sometime soon. And I do not wish this on anybody," he said. SENATOR PHILLIPS pointed out a letter in the committee packet from the Federal Highway Administration dated February 22, which says there are no problems with having legislators on the policy committee. However, he noted that the administration has opposed this legislation on a couple of points. The first concern of the administration was the issue of dual office- holding. However, Hawaii has legislators on their version of AMATS. He said Hawaii has "virtually the same constitution as we do when it comes to dual officeship." He stated his belief that the Division of Legal and Research Services [Legislative Affairs Agency] has provided a legal opinion that this bill is "OK" while the Office of the Attorney General has said it can't be done. However, he said "it's pretty straightforward." Number 1710 REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER related her experience with some of the roads in the Dillingham area. She said her understanding was that legislators get a directive from the local municipality, so "it's not top down." She asked why this was not working in Senator Phillip's area. SENATOR PHILLIPS replied that it was not working because elected state officials are not directly involved in the process. He reiterated that the committee consists of the mayor and two assembly members representing the municipal side, and two non- elected people, from DEC and DOT&PF, who are appointed by the governor. SENATOR PHILLIPS commented that the Glenn Highway situation is very frustrating. The Glenn Highway needs to be repaved, but it won't be [until] a couple of years from now. At the end of session, "the only thing we get is ... a list [that says] gives us your money and we'll just do what we have to do without no say." Legislators have no direct say other then to send letters to the technical or policy committee. This is just "another layer that makes it real difficult to get your projects through," he said. REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER stated that having three elected officials on a five person committee means that they would have the majority vote, and be held accountable by municipal election. She inquired if "that's still not working." SENATOR PHILLIPS said no because "generally speaking" there is a "90-10 split," 90 percent federal funds and 10 percent state funds. He believes as a legislator representing 30,000 to 40,000 people, [he] should have a "little say" over where these priorities go. He went on to say: We're paying part of the bill and I don't mind the process. It's just that when you're elected and people come to you and say why isn't this being done, [and] I say its because of AMATS, they don't understand it. I'm the guy who's getting the flak, because I'm the most visible. I'm elected [so] I should be held accountable for my actions and all I'm asking is to make me accountable for my actions. Let me be part of the decision process in setting up these priorities. You'll hear from DOT[&PF]. They've come up with another ... excuse why they don't support [this bill]. I just wish they would say they don't support it and leave it as is. But anyway, I just think it's very difficult as a legislator, explaining ... to a constituent, why isn't your road being paved. Number 1553 REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER remarked that she empathizes with his situation because she has the same problem in Dillingham with the Wood Tik Chik (ph) Road. However, she would not ask to be on the Dillingham City Council. She stated that one of the concerns with this bill is the dual office holding prohibition in the Alaska State Constitution. She asked if this should be waived for this situation. Number 1524 SENATOR PHILLIPS reiterated his belief that the Division of Legal and Research Services has said SB 88 is not a problem, while the Department of Law has said it is a problem. He reiterated that Hawaii, which has practically the same constitution as far as dual office-holding, has state legislators serving on its version of AMATS. He described this situation as a struggle that has been going on for eight to ten years. He has reached a point of frustration in which he believes "we got to step in and have some say in this process and be held accountable for your actions." SENATOR PHILLIPS suggested that legislators outside of Anchorage imagine the following: Your constituents are telling you this, this and this ... for their roads, or harbors, or whatever and [you] really can't reach in and try to make it right for them and still get virtually beat up because of it. ... Somebody else is making the decision for you and the only thing you're doing is approving a list, handing a check and then they go and do whatever they have to do. SENATOR PHILLIPS explained that the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House would appoint the legislative members of this committee. He imagined that the Anchorage caucus would understand that these legislative members would be representing Anchorage as a whole, not their "own corner" of Anchorage. He said there would be "some understanding between the presiding officer and that member and the caucus as a whole." He believes this would "add a little bit more credibility to the public, despite negative feelings towards legislators." Number 1430 REPRESENTATIVE WILSON remarked that she has strong empathy for his situation because she feels it as well. She asked if he was proposing that all areas do this. SENATOR PHILLIPS answered no, an area is forced to have the AMATS process when the population reaches 50,000. He said none of "your" communities will ever qualify, however it is possible that the Wasilla and Fairbanks areas would. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON questioned if this bill leaves out areas such as Southeast, where the population is small. Number 1355 SENATOR PHILLIPS pointed out that Representative Wilson has a direct link to DOT&PF in dealing with projects, while he has "another layer to work through." For example, when projects in Muldoon and Eagle River were delayed last October, many angry people called him. In turn, he called DOT&PF who told him to talk to AMATS. If AMATS did not exist, he could deal directly with the commissioner or regional officer for the Southcentral region. SENATOR PHILLIPS informed the committee that AMATS meetings are not consistent and have been canceled and moved. He indicated that having a legislator at these policy committees would help ensure that a meeting isn't canceled. He also stated that AMATS has lost "a lot of credibility with every folks in our area." REPRESENTATIVE WILSON remarked that although she doesn't have this "middle" problem, she still has the same problem. Therefore, she is not sure if this legislation is the way to resolve the issue. SENATOR PHILLIPS responded to these remarks by saying that before AMATS, when there were projects, one would call the DOT&PF central office and the commissioner who would work on the project list. He stated that since AMATS was started, 10 to 12 years ago, "you have to go through another maze to get through where you should be." He reiterated that areas such as Representative Wilson's district do not have to deal with this other part. Number 1223 REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER asked if Hawaii has a prohibition on legislators serving in multiple positions. SENATOR PHILLIPS interjected that Hawaii has no prohibition on legislators serving on its version of the AMATS policy committee. REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI wondered whether Senator Phillips would rather get rid of AMATS. SENATOR PHILLIPS said that he has talked about that possibility. However, AMATS is an executive order agreed between the federal and state governments. He said, "I would love to get rid of it, frankly, and just deal with DOT[&PF] directly on a daily basis." REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI asked if there has been any benefit to the AMATS board. SENATOR PHILLIPS replied that he is "one very frustrated individual." However, if he had to put a "positive spring" on it, he would say the AMATS committee has probably led to a "little bit better planning" than before. But it's getting to a point where they are planning things "literally to death" and they are not getting the project done. For example, the Glenn Highway is in bad shape, and it won't be repaved for another couple of years. SENATOR PHILLIPS reiterated to the committee that he knows this is an Anchorage fight. However, it's possible that the Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks areas are close to getting this mandated as well. He believes "we" should have more say in what happens. He noted that he would not want to be on the policy committee himself. REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI pondered whether this board is somehow delaying or causing a delay of projects to happen or is it a lack of funding. However, if AMATS is a board that recommends projects, a lot of things may be out of their hands. SENATOR PHILLIPS concurred, but said that there are many projects that occur in his area that the community does not ask for. He referred to one project in which no one from his community requested. It was discovered that "someplace deep in DOT[&PF] in the Anchorage area made the request." An at-ease was called at 2:42 p.m. The House Transportation Standing Committee meeting was called back to order at 2:44 p.m. TAPE 01-29 SIDE A Number 0054 CHERYL CLEMENSEN, Assembly Member, East Anchorage, testified via teleconference: I've been on the [Anchorage] Assembly for about eight years, AMATS for two years, and I was on AMATS when similar legislation for this first came up three or four years ago. This kind of legislation has never been requested by the local governing body. As a matter of fact, the local governing body has gone on record every year as opposing the change to the AMATS or to the Metropolitan planning office which is the (indisc.) of the Metropolitan Planning Organization [MPO]. It came up the first year, and I can't remember if it was three or four years ago, the Anchorage Assembly held a public hearing of the issue and the House Transportation [Standing] Committee participated via teleconference. Several people from the community participated and testified. There was not one person who testified in favor of this. We have never, at the local level, received any letter, e-mail, [or] telephone calls that I'm aware of or testimony asking that we increase the size of AMATS, that we add another layer of participation level of government.... While people are somewhat frustrated with AMATS as they are with any other process that involves public money, no one has ever suggested that this would be a proper fix for it, except the members of the legislature. And I understand that frustration. But, we are extremely frustrated at this end [because] year after year after year [we] have to be going through the same conversation. To be honest with you, legislators have the same opportunity that members of the public have to comment on the plans and the things that come before us. I know Senator Donley has routinely sent in letters and comments on the plans. And he has been effective in getting some changes or getting things moved up on the list.... When AMATS took up 15th Avenue, a couple of years ago, I was on AMATS ... and several legislators from the area did fly in from Juneau so that they could testify and be present at that meeting. But other than that meeting, I have not seen legislators participate even when they are in town. AMATS meets every month. They meet on a regular basis. They take public testimony. It's important for people to be able to be here in advance, to be able to attend work sessions or to be able to be (indisc.). We have a very excellent staff. We have an AMATS Coordinator and that's all he does; works on AMATS projects, AMATS funding, AMATS prioritization, all those sort of things. He's part of our planning department. He coordinates with the comprehensive plan and the other (indisc.) that are taking place here in town. I think the bottom line of what I'm trying to tell you is that the system is not broken. No one is asking for it to be fixed. I also would like to point out that I believe that this action does violate the intent of Congress when they said that metropolitan planning organizations are intended for local control and for local decision. This [bill] is not local control and with all due respect to Senator Phillips, when I hear him testify about the frustration about this particular project, [what] he doesn't understand ... [is that] we're dealing with a thick pot of money and project lists ... every single year. Sometimes things that were a priority one year, move over a bit because something else [that] is a higher priority comes up. For example, we have now built an elementary school along Abbot Road, and we're trying to figure out how to fund the upgraded road whereas before that was a project that wouldn't of received so much attention because it didn't have the amount of traffic that it is now. I'm very concerned about this and I would ask you to please understand that (indisc.) are a step forward for local governing body, for local control and that the local governing body continues to oppose these types of legislation. And then you would ... be out of compliance with the United States Code 23 USE 134. And I have a lot of concerns about that. Number 0372 REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI stated that he supports local control. However, he asked her to respond to Senator Phillips's concerns or frustrations regarding "disgruntled individuals who didn't get their way or projects that appear not [to be] on the horizon, that are getting funded". He said that when [legislators] are in Juneau, they get a "different story" than when they're home. MS. CLEMENSEN replied that the project list goes through a public process in which the projects are ranked, and the [Anchorage] Assembly as a whole votes on the list. She explained that AMATS representatives are required to represent the vote of the entire body on the prioritization of the list. Furthermore, the mayor follows this process as well. This represents ultimate control in the most basic form other than "community by community actually having a seat on the AMATS policy committee." Public hearings are a part of this process and thus she doesn't believe it is a good idea to have a legislator as a committee member when he or she would be out of town for four months of the year and wouldn't be "following the same sort of input that we have." She remarked that she did not know which projects Senator Phillips was referring to that were added by AMATS and that did not go through a public process. Number 0489 REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI suggested that if legislators were involved in the process for the other eight months of the year, it might eliminate some of the frustration. It would also enable legislators to have a better understanding of projects. He asked Ms. Clemensen if she thought there was any benefit to having legislators on the committee, not to dominate, but to understand the process. MS. CLEMENSEN replied: I believe ... that would be about as helpful as having legislators on the school board because they fund a large part of our school district budget, yet they have no direct say in how that money is spent or even what school capital construction projects are funded. ... This is a separation of powers issue. Congress clearly meant for local governing bodies to have this control. We do have a control. We have a very detailed public process. We are not asking for help in fixing it and I can't think of a single time when a bigger government body made a better (indisc.) government body. REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI said he was thinking of a more "informed decision rather than exercising a higher level of government." CHAIR KOHRING stated his intent to entertain a motion for SB 88, if a committee member cared to do so. Number 0667 REPRESENTATIVE KOOKESH objected to an attempt to move the bill out of committee because there were still people waiting to testify, and he wanted to hear from DOT&PF. He said, "Trying to push it because of a deadline is not fair to anyone," and he would like to hold the bill over to the next meeting CHAIR KOHRING asked if the will of committee was to hear the rest of the testimony and take the bill up for consideration at the next meeting. He apologized for rushing the process. Number 0727 THOMAS BRIGHAM, Director, Division of Statewide Planning, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, remarked that he understood Senator Phillip's frustration since it is similar to anyone's frustration when wanting a project to begin and somehow "our process or in this case, the MPO's [Metropolitan Planning Organization] process is kind of standing in the way." However, SB 88 is not the mechanism, at least for the Anchorage area, to appropriately deal with this issue. MR. BRIGHAM explained that federal law established MPO more than 20 years ago as a congressional way to deal with the conflict between local and state government in how these federal transportation dollars were spent. He described this conflict as being: Big cities in particular who were saying, "give us the money, we know how to spend it, this a local issue," ... and the states on the other hand were basically saying "no, give us the money we see the big picture and we know where to go...." MR. BRIGHAM remarked that this conflict has not gone away. The MPO process applies to communities in an urbanized area with a population of at least 50,000. He mentioned the possibility of Wasilla, Mat-Su Valley, or Fairbanks becoming MPO's as a result of the 2000 census. He noted that Anchorage is "way beyond the threshold and the basic idea is that what the MPO or in this case AMATS is, is a joint local/federal decision-making body that together determines where this funding should be spent." He said it is an additional layer, but one that was established by Congress; all federal money has to go through the MPO to be spent in the Anchorage urban area. Number 0891 MR. BRIGHAM declared that [DOT&PF] does not support SB 88 because it diminishes local control; it upsets the balance between state and local roles in deciding how money is spent in the Anchorage urban area. He noted that since AMATS was created, there has always been one more local than state vote. Originally it was two local votes to one state vote and now it is three local votes to two state votes. Although there aren't many state-local divisions, the idea behind this in voting is if "it comes down to state versus municipality, the municipality can outvote the state." This [bill] would change this, which would result in having four state votes and three local votes. MR. BRIGHAM indicated that another reason DOT&PF does not support this bill is that MPO is the group that needs to decide what the most important projects are. He noted that [DOT&PF] might not agree at times with what AMATS decides. However, according to the law, AMATS can choose. He also mentioned the attorney general's position that this bill violates the constitutional prohibition against dual office holding. He noted that legislative council has a different opinion on this matter. However, he said "it's a cautionary light at minimum and urge your caution in this regard." MR. BRIGHAM referred to letters [included in committee packets] from the Federal Highway Administration. The February 22, 2001, letter says, "Federal regulations do not preclude the participation of state legislators on the AMATS Policy Board. He then pointed to the April 5, 2001, letter that discusses how legislators get to the AMATS Policy Board. He agreed that there is no prohibition against having legislators on the MPO Policy Board. However, he said the point of this letter was that the MPO has to vote in order to add new members. So if the legislature were to say "we want to put two more members on the MPO," it would be in violation of federal and state regulations. Number 1136 MATT KETCHUM, Wilder Construction Company, stated that he supports Senator Phillips' testimony. He remarked that he was referring to "financial responsibility and accountability." He believes that Senator Phillips' frustration is that the people making the project decisions concerning where the $70 million will be spent, have the financial responsibility to constituents for direct money. MR. KETCHUM commented that as a contractor who bids AMATS work and has worked on AMATS projects, he has seen many projects that "don't make sense" priority wise. He said, "It's work to us, and that's what we do, we're contractors, we sign contracts but as citizens in the town, [we see] ... a lot of work that we do [that] does not seem to make sense." He noted that the AMATS committee might have prioritized the projects. But, "we" don't have the time to attend the meetings to "establish these AMATS priority lists," he said. However, if there were some legislative influence, projects of a higher priority would probably come first, which would be "better for the community and particularly the constituents that the legislators represent." Number 1215 REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER wondered how he determines what is a priority [project] in the community. MR. KETCHUM said, "I live there." REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER asked him to provide an example. MR. KETCHUM described a project that consisted of building a bike path near Peter's Creek. He said that the beginning and end of the path went nowhere; it was not in a relatively high- density community. He noted that there was a school nearby, but the "access and egress" of this bike path did not make much sense. One part of the bike path was so steep, it could not be paved, and so a gravel surface was put in, which supposedly met some AMATS standards. This job cost $1.7 million for a two-mile bike path. He commented that those who lived there were saying, "What in the world is this for?" REPRESENTATIVE KAPSNER asked if that would be the fault of the AMATS Board or an engineering fault. MR. KETCHUM replied that it was the fault of the [AMATS] Board. He said, "DOT is marching to the beat of AMATS and that's why I think they're more in favor of not having the AMATS control in there as well." This is the frustration; "people see things like that and then they see a road in [Senator Phillips'] area that very much needs [work] for safety, maintenance, for everything." He indicated that if someone wanted to provide input for the list, one had to attend the meetings. But one needs to call ahead to make sure the meeting has not changed, he added. MR. KETCHUM stated that he supports Senator Phillips because this bill would add legislative "interactment" to the process. He suggested that this would make the legislators feel obligated to attend the meetings, and this would enable higher priority projects to get completed first. He mentioned that Anchorage has more trail miles than road miles and DOT&PF probably realizes this, but it "can hardly maintain trails much less build more." He said his comments are from a contractor's perspective and from a company that consists of people living in this area. Number 1344 REPRESENTATIVE KOOKESH surmised that as a contractor even though Mr. Ketchum thought the aforementioned [bike path] went nowhere, he was still willing to take the contract and accept state money to build it. MR. KETCHUM replied, "Without a doubt, that's what we're in business for, is contracts." Number 1420 ANNA FAIRCLOUGH, Legislative Chair, Anchorage Assembly; Committee Representative, AMATS; testified via teleconference. She pointed out AR No. 2001-44 that announces the Anchorage Assembly's unanimous opposition to SB 88. MS. FAIRCLOUGH gave the following testimony: Senator Phillips and Senator Donley have been encouraged to participate and attend our monthly AMATS meetings. I have directed Lance Wilbur, Director of AMATS, to personally invite both senators to all of our presentations. Taking Senator Phillips and Senator Donley's concerns very seriously, the AMATS committee, the AMATS policy committee has been meeting bi-weekly for close to four months to address the problem and change the way that AMATS ... functions. Today it functions differently and more effectively. I'd like you to know that the federal government believes that the Metropolitan Planning Organization in Anchorage, Alaska, is one of the model programs. To that end, we were actually asked to go to Hawaii and try to help straighten out their problem. While Senator Phillips has pointed out that legislators and political leaders are taking part in Hawaii's AMATS policy program, or the MPO in Hawaii, they felt appropriate to actually ask Anchorage to come over and explain how we were doing it so some of their projects might move [through the] system more efficiently. So, I would encourage any of you if you have questions, to contact Lance Wilbur and talk about the information he shared and the challenges the Hawaii MPO is having. One of those challenges that were told to me was, because of the political will of the constituents, that projects change as election official changes. So that's been part of the problem. A concern for me that Tom mentioned was the separation of powers. The federal government, in my reading and certainly that's a laymen's reading, not a council point of view, was trying to get to the point that local leaders would control how local dollars inside the community and prioritize that. With that thought in mind, I'd like you to consider that Mr. [Dick] Tremaine [Anchorage Assembly member] and myself, while serving on AMATS and collecting information, really are not voting for South Anchorage or for Chugiak Eagle River. We're required, bound to take any requests back to the entire body so that the entire Anchorage community has the opportunity to weigh in on the decision before we actually we go back and vote to appropriate or designate a priority list of how we're going to send money. I was certainly as frustrated as Senator Phillips last October when I found out that Business Boulevard again had not obligated for money. But in defense of the process, Business Boulevard went from a small safety project into a full blown renovation of Business Boulevard with a large change in the scope for that project and that incredible amount of increased funds that were required through the AMATS process. And that will turn (indisc.) this summer. If the legislature wants to be involved, we are all one city. Senator Phillips and Senator Donley, we all live in the same town. We all want the same thing. We do not want this to be weighed in a political direction because of who is in office. And as Tom pointed out, shifting powers from three votes at a local level to four at a state level. The GARVEE bonds is a solution that if we could get senator and representative support, would help Anchorage as well as many other communities throughout Anchorage. Just to point out, 20 percent of AMATS money for the last decade has come to the MPO in Anchorage, Alaska, while we have 40 percent of the population. We could use legislative help to change that breakdown. And I'm certainly not saying that we need 40 percent of the money. I'm just pointing out that we take a considerably amount less than the population that we hold. [I'm] just ask[ing] you to consider how the legislators would actually add to the process. Their availability to participate in meetings is questionable per the Anchorage legislative caucus. When I met with them, they felt like the time that we met would be inconvenient. And that we would now be asking the constituents of Anchorage to contact legislators in Juneau for part of the year to get things done with Anchorage. With that, I support all of the information, input, and conversation that any legislature wants to put in the process and would ask the committee to not support this legislation and to really take a look at how those MPO's are working in other areas. Thank you CHAIR KOHRING noted that Senator Phillips provided the resolution [of the Anchorage Municipal Assembly] in the committee packets. He asked what the assembly's vote on this resolution was. MS. FAIRCLOUGH said it was unanimous [against SB 88]. Number 1693 DICK TREMAINE, South Anchorage Assembly Member, testified via teleconference that his district consists of 52,000 people and thus could separate from the Municipality of Anchorage in regard to federal highway funding. So, this would be the second metropolitan area in the state ahead of Fairbanks MR. TREMAINE commented that Federal Highway dollars take about seven years to make a road, a "miserably long time" that leads to the perception of delay. He remarked that there are people who want local participation, and "what better than the mayor and two assembly members that live in town, rather than someone who is spending their legislative time elsewhere out of town and actually would have to transport themselves back to Anchorage for the bi-weekly meeting." MR. TREMAINE indicated that information on meetings could be obtained over the Internet. He noted that he believes Senator Phillip's office receives it. He referred to earlier comments regarding the delay of projects in Eagle River and said that the people delaying the project were those that owned the property and who would not sign a right-of-way agreement, because they did not want to sell their property. The delay was not due to the policy committee or a "technocrat." He asked the House Transportation Standing Committee to respect the vote unanimous vote of the Anchorage Assembly and not pass SB 88 out of committee. CHAIR KOHRING announced that SB 88 would be held over until Thursday.