Less than two hours after the combative House and Senate seemed to reach a truce on education, a bill dealing with the proposed Knik Arm Bridge fell apart on the House floor.
The House rejected the Senate’s version by one vote on Wednesday night. Because 21 votes are required to pass legislation, the bill came up short when it got 20 yeas and 18 nays. Six Republicans broke ranks with their party to oppose the bill. They were Mike Hawker of Anchorage, Mia Costello of Anchorage, Lindsey Holmes of Anchorage, Kurt Olson of Kenai, Eric Feige of Chickaloon, and Paul Seaton of Homer. Two Republicans who were expected to support the bill were not present because of excused absences. Rep. Bob Lynn of Anchorage was excused for a family illness, while Rep. Lora Reinbold of Eagle River was absent because of a planned vacation.
While the bill originated in the House, it was dramatically changed in the Senate after an audit suggested that the project may be uneconomic. The new version sets up a financing plan for the billion-dollar bridge that involves a mix of federal highway grants, federal loans, and state bonds.
Because the House failed to concur, the bill may be sent to “free” conference committee with the power to rewrite it – just like was done with the education bill this week. That could extend a legislative session that has already gone three full days over its statutory deadline. While the Senate still needs to agree, the House has already named Kodiak Republican Alan Austerman, Chugiak Republican Bill Stoltze, and Anchorage Democrat Harriet Drummond.
The bridge bill is a major priority of Senate President Charlie Huggins, a Wasilla Republican.