Legislature(2005 - 2006)SENATE FINANCE 532
04/20/2006 01:00 PM FINANCE
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
1:24:36 PM SENATE BILL NO. 271 "An Act authorizing the commissioner of transportation and public facilities to participate in certain federal highway programs and relating to that authorization; relating to powers of the attorney general to waive immunity from suit in federal court related to those programs; and providing for an effective date." This was the second hearing for this bill in the Senate Finance Committee. Co-Chair Green reminded that this bill would provide the statutory authority necessary for the establishment of a pilot program proposed by US Congressman Don Young of Alaska. The provision relating to immunity waivers is necessary to reduce delays. 1:25:46 PM Senator Stedman clarified that no changes were proposed to the original version of the bill previously heard in Committee. Co-Chair Green affirmed. Senator Stedman recalled that concern was expressed about the amount of the fiscal note and the increased number of positions this bill would entail. Funding for additional positions is included in the FY 07 Operating Budget earlier reported from Committee. He was not convinced that the proposed program would improve the process to the extent that the costs would be warranted. 1:27:19 PM JOHN MACKINNON, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, testified that funding for the additional positions as listed in the fiscal note is not included in the FY 07 Operating Budget. The program would be funded primarily with federal funding, but would require State matching funds. The Department supports the creation of this program. It would benefit Alaska by streamlining the process and allowing for decision-making "in house" within the Department rather than by the federal government. The cost is low in comparison to the large program. The cost savings incurred in one year from streamlining a project would pay for the operation of the program. 1:29:23 PM Senator Stedman expressed concern of the potential risk exposure to the State by waiving this sovereign immunity. He asked if more exposure to liability could occur than anticipated. Mr. McKinnon had contacted the federal Highway Administration and learned it had little litigation history on this issue. In cases of litigation resulting from accidents the court directed that certain changes be made to prevent additional crashes. He told of a case involving the state of Utah in which hearings on an environmental impact statement were held as an open meeting forum and information was inadvertently posted and made public. 1:31:33 PM Senator Stedman pointed out that few roads had been constructed in Alaska in the last 20 years. New roads would improve commerce and travel. He asked if this legislation is intended to facilitate the construction of new roads or just shorten the length of time to resolve "the inevitable" litigation by one year. 1:32:08 PM Mr. McKinnon expressed the Department's intent to address this undertaking "seriously" by following procedure correctly but also to provide "checks and balances" to ensure against errors. This program would provide no guarantee against litigation. In the history of these State projects, two cases have been litigated against; Illiamna/Nondalton road and bridge project, which is still pending, and the Whittier Tunnel. The State and federal agencies have prevailed to date on all actions relating to these projects. 1:32:59 PM Senator Olson asked the amount of time until the federal funding is eliminated and the State would be required to assume all costs to operate this program, as is occurring with many other programs. 1:33:26 PM Mr. McKinnon answered that the provisions of this legislation would be part of the federal highway aide program. The federal funding is assured for five years for this six-year program. He presumed that if federal funding for highway construction were eliminated nationwide "serious mutiny" would occur. 1:34:06 PM Senator Olson clarified that State funding would not be required to "backfill" a reduction or elimination of federal funding for five years. Mr. McKinnon responded the federal funding would be assured for at least five years and most likely longer. Senator Olson asked if State assumption of this process would affect the eligibility to receive federal funding. Mr. McKinnon surmised this undertaking would not make the State more or less eligible for federal funding for transportation projects. 1:34:53 PM Co-Chair Wilken offered a motion to report the bill, 24- GS2042\A, from Committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. There was no objection and SB 274 was MOVED from Committee with fiscal note #1 for $647,400 from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and zero fiscal note #2 from the Department of Environmental Conservation.