Sen.-elect Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, went public Wednesday with plans to file legislation to relocate the Legislature to Anchorage, as first reported by KTUU’s Austin Baird.
But Gov. Bill Walker said in an email to the Juneau Empire, sent by his spokeswoman Grace Jang, that he would most likely not sign a bill to move the capitol.
“While I typically do not commit on how I would deal with any particular legislation before it is on my desk, I do not favor moving the capital from Juneau,” he said.
Ever a controversial issue, capital move proposals have come before lawmakers about 13 times and voters eight times since statehood. All were unsuccessful. Stoltze’s bill will not ask for a complete capital move but a relocation of the Legislature to Anchorage’s newly refurbished Legislative Information Office, said Carolyn Kuckertz, spokeswoman for the Alaska Senate Majority, of which Stoltze will be a member once he is sworn in.
Stoltze, who previously served six terms in the state House of Representatives, was traveling and did not return phone and email requests for comment Thursday.
Kuckertz said Stoltze’s bill doesn’t fall into the majority’s priorities for the upcoming session, “but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have support for it.”
“Some of our members do support Sen. Stoltze, some don’t,” she said. “It’s always a touchy subject.”
Moving the capital closer to the state’s population center has been studied over and over again by lawmakers for decades, as evidenced by a quick look through Legislative Research Services’ archive — and those are just the capital move research reports that lawmakers released to the public. Through the years, lawmakers and voters have held off on moving the capital from Juneau because of the high cost associated with the transition.
A 1981 report requested by former Rep. Don Clocksin and Sen. Vic Fisher estimated that a partial move of the capital — just the Legislature, the governor’s office, commissioners and their immediate staffs — to Anchorage would have cost $121 million in 1982 dollars.
In 1982, voters were asked to approve a full capital move to Willow, chosen by voters as the preferred site in 1976. The move was estimated to cost $2.8 billion at the time. The proposition failed, with 53 percent voting against.
The issue was most recently brought before the public in 2002, when two-thirds of Alaska voters opposed a ballot initiative to move legislative sessions to the Mat-Su Borough.
There are no recent public state estimates of how much a capital move — partial or complete — would cost today. Kuckertz said Stoltze has not yet run the numbers, but is well aware of the state’s current financial situation. Due to dropping crude oil prices, the state is facing an estimated $3.5 billion budget deficit in fiscal year 2016.
“(Stoltze is) one of the staunchest supporters of budget cuts,” she said. “Unless (his bill) is going to save money, I can’t see him letting it go through.”
Kuckertz said if the bill cannot be passed this session because of budgetary constraints, at least it can start a conversation.
“If you get the ball rolling now, you might not necessarily pass it, but you get people to think about it in different ways,” Kuckertz said.
Legislative branch staff based in Juneau would have to relocate to Anchorage through his bill, which has not yet been filed, but Stoltze believes Juneau would remain the seat of the state’s executive branch, Kuckertz said.
The state government is Juneau’s largest employer. Almost 24 percent of working Juneauites, about 4,200 people, are employed by the state, mostly by executive branch departments, such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Conservation, according to the Juneau Economic Development Council’s 2014 Economic Indicators report.
A relatively small percentage of Juneau-based state employees work in the legislative branch — about 150 total, based on a rudimentary count using the state employee directory.
“So Juneau wouldn’t be losing its main population base,” Kuckertz said. “It wouldn’t be losing its state employees. We like Juneau, we don’t want to see anything bad happen to that community, and the state employees who work there want to stay there.”
Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, has been staunchly opposed to a capital move since it first became an issue in the 1960s and has worked on several committees through the years to prevent it from happening. He said he believes every attempt to move any part of the capital damages Juneau and its economy, which has been experiencing some contraction with state jobs trickling north. Between 2012 and 2013, Juneau lost 31 state government jobs, according to Economic Indicators.
This causes Juneauites, and especially the Juneau delegation, to be protective of their city, Egan said. He said Juneau lawmakers tend to take it personally when other legislators introduce capital move bills, seemingly every session.
“We do, absolutely, because it affects our community directly,” he said. “We’re really concerned about it, and I think rightfully so. ... Every time a little item like this comes up, it hurts our economy, and it hopefully will not go anywhere.”
Even when a capital move bill doesn’t go anywhere, lawmakers must still consider it and spend time on it, Egan said. Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, introduced one last session that didn’t get a hearing.
“I’m just real upset that we’ll have to do all of this again, and he’s done this before,” Egan said of Stoltze. Of Stoltze’s comment to KTUU that Juneau goes on “DEFCON alert” every time the issue of capital move is brought up, Egan said, “Of course we will, it’s our community.”
Mostly, the repeated attempts at relocation are tiresome and only succeed in causing conflict, he said.
“I just hate to see things like this come up and try to divide the state,” Egan said. “Fairbanks is the seat of education, Anchorage is the seat of commerce and we’re the seat of government, and I hope it remains that way.”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.