Aug. 15, 2002 The Anchorage Daily News says it's easy to say 'no' to capitol move

Posted: Monday, August 19, 2002

In Alaska politics, statewide candidates have good reason to oppose measures that would move the capital or Legislature out of Juneau. Going all the way back to the first capitol-move vote in 1960, no pro-move candidate has been elected governor. Too many people outside Southcentral Alaska feel threatened by the idea.

So GOP gubernatorial candidate Frank Murkowski, speaking in Juneau earlier this month, stood in the traditional statewide mainstream when he came out against the legislative move initiative on the November statewide ballot. (His major opponent, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, is a former mayor of Juneau who is understandably opposed.)

Alaska Republicans, with their anti-government rhetoric, often aim to tap the same vein of voter disaffection with government that drives support for moving the capital or Legislature. Yet Republicans also often preach fiscal responsibility -- which argues against a move, especially as proposed in Ballot Measure 2.

Proponents claim a move can be done on a shoestring. Some even claim it can save money by cutting legislators' travel and per diem. Unless the Legislature meets in a Quonset hut, though, it's hard to see how the math works out. There'd have to be mighty big savings in travel to pay for a new place big enough for the 500 people who work for the Legislature -- especially since the capitol building in Juneau is already fully paid for.

In any event, Alaskans have, by initiative, reserved themselves the right to vote on the costs of a move, legislative or capital, as would be determined by a commission. That right would be repealed by a Yes vote on Measure 2 in November.

That's one reason Republican Party Chair Randy Ruedrich has said ''fiscally-conservative Republicans should steer clear of this initiative.'' It would, he advised, ''create a blank check for spending.''

Besides the political calculus, besides the cost, besides the repeal of the public's right to know the costs, Sen. Murkowski has another reason to join those opposing this year's move proposal.

His roots are in Ketchikan, as a banker, so he well knows how the economy of all Southeast is linked to Juneau. He knows how the regional economy would be jolted if large numbers of state employees were shipped from Juneau to points north.

The frustration voters feel -- that government is unresponsive, that special interests have too much influence -- is legitimate. What is not so clear is whether Ballot Measure 2 -- a move with a questionable price tag, with no voter check on the costs -- would improve the situation. On that point, the burden of proof is on the proponents.

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