Chamber starts campaign for capital funds


The Wrangell Chamber of Commerce launched a letter-writing campaign aimed at getting capital funds placed in the 2015 state budget.

A first draft of the budget by Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration included no new capital money for Wrangell projects. Previously allotted state funds will provide for engineering for the refurbishment of Evergreen Street this year, with construction slated to begin in 2015, borough officials have said. State transportation officials also mentioned apron construction at the airport as an imminent project.

A draft letter available at the chamber’s offices lists the new hospital construction, water plant improvements, and boat yard improvements. Organizers encourage local letter-writers to add additional projects or revise the letter to fit their own personal views, said Wilma Leslie, a chamber member who helped to organize the campaign.

The campaign focuses on Parnell, State Rep. Peggy Wilson (R-Wrangell) and State Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka). The campaign focuses on those three officials because Parnell drafted the budget, and Stedman and Wilson represent Wrangell to the state legislature for the A Senate district and 33rd Representative district.

“The reason it’s for … Wilson and Stedman is because Wrangell’s in their districts,” Leslie said. “If you hear from your own constituents, that has more weight than hearing from a constituent outside of where you represent.”

Parnell is included in part because of past infrastructure allotments for Wrangell, Leslie said.

“It never hurts to say thank you, you know, if Wrangell happens to be included,” she said. “My guess is that he (Parnell) doesn’t get a lot of thank-you’s.”

The letters are “just a reminder that we’re still here,” Leslie added.

This week may be the ideal time for an intensive grass-roots campaign.

The capitol budgeting process, which traditionally starts when the governor’s proposals head through the Senate, started this week. The House will at the same time take up the state's operating budget, Wilson said.

The senate “will work with it for at least six weeks – maybe more – and then they’ll send it to us,” she said.

Additions (or subtractions) to the capitol budget made in the State Senate then head to the State House, where representatives review their changes, Wilson said.

“I’ll add things on my side. My job will be to keep (Stedman’s additions) in,” she said.

“It’s a long process and we’re just getting started,” Wilson added.

Once passed by the House, the Senate is tasked with either approving or rejecting changes. "In the event of approval by the Senate, the capital and operating budgets then head to the governor for approval. In the event of rejection, the budget faces a joint conference committee between the two houses to hammer out any differences, said Becky Rooney, Wilson’s chief

of staff.

Declining oil revenues and other forms of state income may mean tough or unpopular choices for legislators, Rooney said.

“Everyone is talking about how much less money there is this year and how we have to be fiscally responsible,” she said.

The previous capital investments in Evergreen mean some of the urgency of the campaign may diminish, but the campaign will go forward to keep Wrangell on the legislative radar, said Chamber Director Cyni Waddington.

“It still is important that we recognize that Wrangell wants to be included in the budget,” she said.

The second session of the 28th Alaska legislature ends April 20.


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