Capital move: It's not good business

Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2002

It's been said before that government would be much more efficient if it were run like a business. If you believe that, take a close look at Ballot Measure 2 in November and ask yourself if buying a new office building for a business that lost a billion dollars the year prior is a sound financial decision. Most accountants would find it hard to make those numbers work. I've already given up trying.

Ballot Measure 2 asks voters to move the state Legislature from Juneau to the Mat-Su at a time when the state is desperate to hold the line on a growing deficit. A "yes" vote would cost Alaskans dearly. Not only would a blank check be issued to pay for the move, an entire region -- that has for many years been an excellent host for our state government -- would be devastated.

We've been here before. In the 1976 general election, Alaskans decided that Willow would be the site for a new state Capital. Six years later they balked at an estimated price tag that approached $3 billion. Let us not forget -- Alaska was flush with oil revenues at the time, and it was almost laughable to think that state coffers would dip in to red numbers. Still, the majority of Alaskans believed there were projects better suited for that money.

What has changed two decades later? One glaring difference is a budget gap that continues to grow. It's hard to imagine spending hundreds of millions of dollars to move a Legislature that is currently operating in a building that is completely paid for. Proponents of a move have argued that state government would become more efficient if it were in Southcentral.

How can an administration and a Legislature separated by more than 600 miles be more efficient? And how long will it be before the rest of the capital follows? Not only would a capital move add to the cost by billions, it would make complete an assault on a South-east economy that is still trying to recover from the loss of the timber industry. How far have we fallen that we would consider raiding one economy to boost another that can't even keep up with existing growth?

Ballot Measure 2 takes away your right to know and approve the cost of moving the Legislature. It repeals the FRANK initiative, which was crafted to protect Alaskans from any surprises should a legislative move take place. Even if you support a move, this is a significant omission.

There's no question that access to the capital can be challenging, but the community of Juneau has made great strides to change that. Legislative proceedings can be seen every day on Gavel to Gavel. Internet streaming of legislative hearings has become the norm. And landing in Juneau has never been safer or more reliable thanks to a multi-million-dollar upgrade to the airport.

If you do decide to fly, the Constituent Air Fare program has drastically reduced the cost. If time is your issue, keep in mind how long it would take to drive to the Mat-Su and back to Kenai. Compare that with the time it takes to fly round trip to Juneau -- it's a wash.

Simple addition frames Ballot Measure 2 for what it is: needs vs. wants. A number of Alaskans want lawmakers closer to the population center, but is it absolutely essential that we make this move now? Alaska's needs should come first, and lawmakers can start by balancing the budget.

I plan to vote "no" on Ballot Measure 2. It can't possibly be good for business.

Bob Favretto is involved in the city of Kenai Economic Development Committee and is the owner of the Kenai Chrysler Center, Great Bear Ford in Soldotna and Capital Chevrolet in Juneau.

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