On March 23, a petition to move the Alaska Legislature to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough was delivered to the lieutenant governor for certification. For more than 40 years, efforts have been made to make our state government more accessible. So far, all were sabotaged by special interest groups.
For instance, in the 1970s the people voted to move the capital from Juneau to Willow. The move was never made because the Legislature inflated the cost of the move. Such simple trickery will no longer prevail! The voters of Alaska are now much more knowledgeable and are ready to bring Alaska into the new millennium.
Alaska's capital was moved from Sitka to Juneau nearly 100 years ago for the same reason the Legislature should be moved now to the growing and dynamic Mat-Su Borough. In most states, primary government functions are centrally located where the majority of citizens can access them. Juneau is too remote to be accessible to most Alaskans. Although Juneau was once Alaska's center of population, that is no longer the case.
Presently, the state's business is conducted far away from the major population centers -- pretty much out of sight and under the influence of special interest groups that grovel for money and special considerations at the expense of all Alaskans. I have been told that it is common practice for legislators to avoid meeting with constituents by pawning them onto their staffs even after the constituents make appointments to visit with their legislators. Having the Legislature in the Mat-Su Borough will make it easier for the people to effect meaningful input into the legislative process and to make sure that the Legislature is doing its job.
The legislative session is approximately three-quarters over. The Legislature has passed only nine bills, and most of them have to do with such unsubstantial, although commendable, matters as designating part of the Eagle River Loop Road as the Eagle River Veterans' Memorial Highway. The Legislature also has passed a slew of meaningless resolutions that accomplish absolutely nothing. If the Legislature has nothing better to do with its time, the people of this state should know this.
The Capitol is decrepit, unsafe and is not representative of the great state of Alaska. Juneau itself is a great tourist destination and a quaint fishing village, but it lacks buildable land, and it experiences hazardous weather conditions that make air travel treacherous, costly and unreliable. Car parking is almost nonexistent around the Capitol. The Capitol is also susceptible to destruction by avalanche. Juneau experiences a major avalanche approximately every year and a quarter that causes damage to the downtown area surrounding the Capitol.
In comparison, the Mat-Su Borough not only has ample, cheap building land, but it is also centrally located geographically and has two major airports that could be easily expanded. Additionally, the Mat-Su Borough has a rail link, and is at the junction of two major transportation corridors, the Glenn and Parks highways. Census figures recently released indicate that the Mat-Su Borough is experiencing the greatest population growth in the state. Between 1990 and 2000, the Mat-Su Borough grew a booming 50 percent while Juneau grew a paltry 15 percent.
It is almost impossible for the average voter to come to Juneau because the travel costs are prohibitively expensive and the trip takes too much time. An Anchorage voter can expect to pay about $700 to visit his legislators in Juneau. The only commercial airline flying in and out of the Juneau airport has a monopoly on air service. The majority of the population can drive to Juneau only by traveling through a foreign country and taking a ferry ride. This road, to say the least, is treacherous in the winter, the time that the Legislature is in session. The government of no other state requires its citizens to go through such ordeals simply to visit elected officials while they are in session.
It would be wise for people of Juneau to diversify their economy, for it is only a question of time before they will have to face reality and deal with the unavoidable. It would be best for the people of Juneau to view the new movement to move the Legislature as a great opportunity and use their resources constructively rather than to fight the inevitable.
The Legislature could not have dreamed up a more inconvenient and misplaced location for our state legislature. The fact the Legislature has remained in Juneau to this day is simply historical accident. To move the Legislature to the Mat-Su Borough will give all Alaskans access to their elected officials by air, road and railroad in order to ensure that the Legislature conducts the public's business.
Robert Monson is president of Alaskans for Progress. He lives in Anchorage.
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