Capital move foe: Measure too costly

Posted: Thursday, October 03, 2002

A state ballot measure that proposes moving the Legislature to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough would do nothing to improve government efficiency and would cost Alaskans and the Southeast region, Win Gruening of the Alaska Committee told members of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Gruening, a senior vice president with KeyBank, Juneau resident and chair of the Alaska Committee, visited the chamber meeting to oppose state Ballot Measure No. 2, which will go before voters Nov. 5.

According to Gruening, Alaskans have voted on a capital move seven times since the early 1960s, with the most recent proposal being defeated in 1994.

The Alaska Committee, which has been in existence for many years, decided in 1994 to begin focusing on addressing some of the issues that led to capital move proposals, Gruening said.

"We realized if we were ever going to put it behind us, we couldn't just react," he said. "We had to address the issues and be proactive."

Gruening said one of the claims proponents of the measure make is that moving the Legislature would provide Alaskans better access to their representatives.

"The fact is, access has never been better," he said, pointing out that with the help of the committee, all legislative sessions are broadcast on television and over the Internet. Committee hearings also are broadcast and archived online.

He added that a partnership with Alaska Airlines provides discounted walk-on fares to Juneau and that most Alaskans prefer to communicate with their representatives by e-mails, letters or phone calls rather than face-to-face visits.

"Frankly, these people are hard to get to, even if you're in the same city," Gruening said.

Furthermore, he said, the move would not improve the efficiency of the government because it would separate the executive and legislative branches by about 600 miles.

"It's hard enough to get the governor and Legislature to talk to each other when they're one floor apart," he said.

Most likely, the entire capital would end up moving.

"Very few believe this is just a legislative move," Gruening said. "What it really means is moving the capital by moving the Legislature first."

Gruening also said the move would cost a significant, but undisclosed amount of money.

A similar ballot measure in 1982 proposed moving the capital to Wasilla for $2.8 billion. And that was 20 years ago, Gruening pointed out.

This time, the Legislature would have to move to Anchorage, because facilities are not currently available in Mat-Su, then move again to the final destination. That would mean two moves, two sets of office equipment and two facilities to hold the more than 500 employees, as well as continued maintenance costs for empty state-owned buildings in Juneau, he said.

And voters would not even get to approve the cost of the move, because the measure also repeals part of the FRANK (Frustrated Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge) Initiative.

According to the Alaska Committee Web site, the FRANK Initiative, which requires that voters know the total costs of a legislative move, as determined by a neutral commission, before the state can spend the money, originally passed in 1978, but was automatically repealed when the 1982 capital move proposition failed. The FRANK Initiative went back before voters in 1994 and passed with about 80 percent of the vote.

Ballot Measure No. 2 would repeal the initiative again, taking power away from voters, and would give the state a virtual "blank check," Gruening said.

The Alaska Committee is not the only organization opposed to the measure. On Feb. 9, the Republican Party of Alaska passed a motion reaffirming Alaskans' right to know and approve the costs of a legislative or capital move, though it did not take a position on the merits of moving the Legislature.

On the same day, the Alaska Democratic Party passed a resolution firmly opposing the move, stating that, among other things, "A legislative move will divert attention away from critical social and economic problems Alaskans should be working cooperatively to solve," and "moving the legislature is not a productive use of Alaskans' money, time or energy."

Those resources, Gruening said, would be better spent trying to plug the state's fiscal gap.

"Somehow, as part of a long-range fiscal plan, income taxes and a cap on the permanent fund dividend are going to be considered. How much of your income tax or dividend are you willing to commit to pay for this effort?" he asked. "The money has to come from somewhere. If not taxes or the permanent fund, then from projects or programs already out there. Which of these are you willing to give up?

"Here on the Kenai Peninsula, you just voted down a repeal of the grocery tax yesterday. If you can't afford Proposition 4, you can't afford Ballot Measure 2."

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