Backers say legislative move effort will live on

Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Promoters of a ballot measure to move legislative sessions out of Juneau have been all but silent during the campaign season this year, while anti-move ads blanketed much of the state. Still, Uwe Kalenka, leader of Alaskans for Efficient Government, says the issue is hardly dead.

In fact, he thinks it'll be back on the ballot in two years based on a court challenge.

''The war is not over,'' Kalenka says. ''In the meantime it appears that Juneau overreacted and spent all that money. This is a long-range strategy here.''

Kalenka's group announced earlier this month that it was no longer actively campaigning for the initiative. And other groups have not apparently picked up the banner.

The ballot measure would move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in 2005, or to Anchorage if no suitable place exists there.

It would also repeal the FRANK initiative, which requires a commission to study the cost of moving the capital or Legislature and then put it before voters in a subsequent election.

Supporters of the move asked Gov. Tony Knowles in February to appoint such a study commission. He refused. A judge upheld the governor's decision, but the issue has been appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, which isn't expected to rule before the election.

Meanwhile, Alaska voters must decide Nov. 5 whether to approve the idea, which has been presented to them in varying forms six times since statehood.

The Alaska Committee has been emphasizing the issue of cost, as the group did in a successful campaign against the most recent capital move initiative back in 1994.

Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee, said it would save no state money and devastate the economy of Juneau.

Destruction of Juneau's economy is a red herring, says Mark Chryson, head of the Alaskan Independence Party and one of the original sponsors of the initiative.

''Just as many bureaucrats and state offices are going to remain in Juneau after we move it. There's not going to be any major problem,'' Chryson said. ''Has Sitka or Ketchikan died because the pulp mills left?''

For supporters of a move, the issue has always been access. Juneau cannot be reached by road and so residents must travel by air or water.

Kalenka said locating the Legislature near Alaska's road system would change the ''psychological outlook of everything in politics'' and attract more qualified candidates for office.

''People could charter buses and see their legislators. Put pressure on them like they do in other states,'' said Kalenka.

Gruening says legislative hearings in Anchorage and elsewhere have usually attracted sparse crowds. Meanwhile, great strides have been made to make access easier in Juneau.

''Every year we come up with ways to make communications easier,'' he said, noting that constituents can now e-mail their legislators or send public opinion messages. Teleconferencing has been improved, he said, and legislative sessions are now televised on cable TV.

And as far as getting more candidates if the sessions weren't in Juneau, Gruening says ''I'd question somebody's commitment if it wasn't deep enough that the site of the capital would defer them.''

The cost of such a move and its corresponding savings aren't immediately clear, but the FRANK Committee's Mary Nordale says they are substantial.

An architect said it could cost $250 per square foot for a public building, she said. At that rate, replacing the 120,000 square feet of space the Legislature now occupies would cost $30 million.

The state currently has free rent on an office building provided by Juneau, and the capital itself was donated by the federal government.

So adding a new structure in Mat-Su would increase costs, though many legislators already have offices in Anchorage or the Valley. Local governments in Mat-Su have offered to provide land in the past.

''Then you've got a total rearrangement of the executive branch during the legislative session'' as division managers and others appear before the lawmakers, Nordale said.

Cost is certainly an issue for those who campaign for and against a move.

The FRANK Committee has raised more than $300,000 for its effort. Top contributors include Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau and the Juneau Empire.

The Alaska Committee received more than $1 million from the city of Juneau this year as it did in 1994. The committee expects to spend up to $1.2 million to fight this year's measure.

As for legislative move backers, Kalenka's group says it spent less than $25,000 to put the measure on the ballot.

And as for any advertising blitz in support for the ballot measure?

''We haven't spent a nickel since we turned it in,'' Kalenka said.

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