Capital move issue renewed

Among early bills is a new attempt to spark debate

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007

The state's capital will once again have to fend off attempts to have it moved.

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A bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Neuman, a Wasilla Republican, wants the House to renew the debate over moving the Legislature to the fast-growing Matanuska-Susitna Borough, just north of Anchorage.

It's also the home of newly elected Gov. Sarah Palin, who has said she would leave any decision on a capital move to the Legislature. "The governor does not dictate where the Legislature meets," she said before being elected.

The bill is essentially a rewrite of an unsuccessful measure filed last year and also sponsored by Newman.

Legislators have previously and unsuccessfully tried to move the capital from Juneau, which is isolated in southeast Alaska and only accessible by air or boat.

Neuman said a more central location is not only good for legislators making long journeys to the annual lawmaking sessions, but it's also convenient for the state's residents.

"People want access to their government, and I feel we have to keep that discussion moving forward and keep it on the table," Neuman said.

"Everybody needs a fair opportunity," he said. "My responsibility is for people to have access to an open government."

Neuman says he understands the concerns for proponents of keeping Juneau the capital as it's been since the territorial days when it was a bustling gold mine town.

As a result his bill does allow boroughs or municipalities with more than 30,000 residents the chance to propose a new legislative hall to replace the existing 76-year-old downtown Juneau building.

"This would allow Juneau the ability to bid," Neuman said.

Neuman's bill is one of more than 120 bills filed on Friday as a prelude to the Jan. 16 legislation. More pre-session filings are expected next Friday.

Filings dealt with issues ranging from ethics reform to ideas related to the state's vast oil and natural gas resources.

In some cases, the House and Senate have produced their own versions of bills addressing the same issues.

Bills from both sides concerning the terminated Point Thomson oil field leases in the North Slope, however, are quite similar.

The proposals call for retroactively giving the Alaska Supreme Court jurisdiction over the dispute between the state and oil companies over undeveloped leases in the North Slope.

The effective date would be Nov. 26, according to the House bill submitted by Rep. Ralph Samuels, an Anchorage Republican.

That's one day before former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mike Menge said Exxon Mobil Corp., operator of the Point Thomson field, failed to come up with a viable plan to develop the field's resources.

Two weeks ago, the Irving, Texas, company asked the Alaska's Superior Court to overturn a state decision.

Now members of the House and Senate want the Supreme Court to have jurisdiction.

Getting Point Thompson resolved is essential toward building a natural gas pipeline, said Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, who co-wrote the Senate bill with fellow Republican Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole.

"What this bill does is, it shortens the period of time the leases will be under a cloud of legal review," Wagoner said. "It's imperative the time is shortened as much as possible because of the pipeline."

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