Few testify about relocating Legislature

Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Citizens barely outnumbered lawmakers Saturday in a teleconferenced hearing on whether to move legislative sessions from Juneau to Anchorage.

''It's a beautiful day,'' Chairman John Coghill of the House State Affairs Committee said from Anchorage, where he was presiding. ''I wouldn't blame anybody for not being here, but it is a significant issue.''

Twelve legislators in Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks participated in the hearing, just two fewer than the number of people who signed up to testify.

Twelve citizens actually did testify, including eight from Anchorage, where Coghill, R-North Pole, was presiding. All but one of the people testifying from Anchorage supported the measure.

Dan Boone, a Chitina firefighter, said that he could go to Hawaii for a week for the cost of traveling to Juneau for a day. ''You might even consider Honolulu as the capital of the state of Alaska,'' he joked.

Scott Robart of Anchorage castigated Juneau residents as selfish for trying to retain ''virtual ownership of the democratic process.''

Former state Administration Commissioner Joe Henri was the lone opponent of the bill in Anchorage. He said that a legislative move would have to become a capital move, which would be costly and divisive.

Juneau Mayor Sally Smith said the light attendance on a Saturday in Anchorage was good news for her community.

''If it were a burning issue in Anchorage, there would have been a lot of people turning out,'' Smith said.

Reps. Norm Rokeberg and Joe Green, Anchorage Republicans who co-sponsored the legislation, say the Legislature needs to leave Juneau because the distance and cost of traveling to Juneau make government inaccessible for more than 90 percent of Alaskans.

They say 57 of 60 legislators also must undergo a disruptive relocation every year, limiting the pool of potential legislative candidates and aides.

While the measure faces an uphill battle in the Legislature, the issue of Juneau's status as the capital isn't going away.

Uwe Kalenka of Anchorage, sponsor of last year's failed ballot initiative on capping property taxes statewide, said he planned to file this week for an initiative petition on moving sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Sessions to be held in Anchorage for an interim period if suitable facilities weren't immediately available in Mat-Su under Kalenka's petition.

House Majority Leader Jeannette James, R-North Pole, said she believes the capital eventually will move, through a citizen ballot initiative. But now it's an issue that pits Anchorage against the rest of the state, which need infrastructure and job opportunities, she said. ''I think we should deal with that issue first.''

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