A group seeking to move the Legislature to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough made good today on a vow to aim for the November ballot.
The group showed up at the state Division of Elections in Anchorage with an estimated 40,000 signatures in support of putting the question to voters.
If the state verifies at least 28,782 of the signatures are valid, the measure will appear on the 2002 ballot.
"It was an easy (signature) drive," said Uwe Kalenka, of Alaskans for Efficient Government, an Anchorage group that spearheaded the signature drive.
"It appears from my perspective there's overwhelming support to have the politicians up here."
If the state certifies the initiative petition, the Alaska Committee will go into high gear to fight it, said Win Gruening, president of the Juneau nonprofit group, which has fended off similar efforts.
"We will get a campaign put together," Gruening said. "It's unfortunate we need to spend money on this when we've got billion-dollar shortfalls that the state is facing."
The measure would move the legislative session to the Mat-Su Borough by 2005 or sooner if practicable. If "suitable facilities" were not available in that borough, the Legislature would move to Anchorage, but only until facilities were available in the Mat-Su, according to the initiative.
It's unclear whether suitable facilities are available in either region, although initiative sponsor Mark Chryson has suggested lawmakers could use several vacant buildings in Wasilla, including an abandoned Sears store. Kalenka said lawmakers would have to figure out where to meet.
"We aren't going to tell them what to do," Kalenka said.
The initiative also would void an existing law that prohibits the state from moving the Legislature unless voters approve the cost. Voters overwhelmingly approved that law in 1994 by a vote of 159,781-46,665. That will be a key issue in Juneau's campaign against the measure, Gruening said.
Alaskans "won't get a chance to vote on what the cost is, in fact they won't even know what the cost is," he said.
The Alaska Committee also will try to show voters the measure would trigger a capital move.
"It's really a full capital move in disguise, and I think we need to make sure the public understands that," Gruening said.
Kalenka scoffed at the argument the measure would move the capital.
"We are merely talking about having the legislative session held in the Mat-Su valley. They will no longer have to commute to Juneau," Kalenka said. "It will save the state a fortune."
Now that the signatures are in, Kalenka figures his work is done. He will leave the campaign to "groups" in the Mat-Su Borough and Anchorage, which he declined to name.
"There are several groups that have formed and they're going to campaign to get it passed," Kalenka said. "I'm personally not too interested to get into a campaign."
Chryson, the initiative sponsor, said he was not prepared to name the campaign groups or the people involved.
"I haven't been keeping up with everything," said Chryson.
Gruening said the Alaska Committee has about $175,000 in the bank, but $125,000 is earmarked for a Capitol improvement study. That leaves about $50,000 in discretionary money.
The Alaska Committee spent more than $1 million to defeat a 1994 measure to move the capital to Wasilla. The Juneau Assembly helped fund the effort.
"If the signatures are certified, I suspect we will need to ask the Assembly for some funding," Gruening said.
It will take about three weeks to verify whether the session-move group collected the required number of signatures from registered Alaska voters, said Gail Fenumiai, of the state Division of Elections.
If 28,782 of the 40,000 signatures pass muster, the measure will go on the ballot. If the signatures fall short, the group will have to start the signature drive all over again to get the question on the 2004 ballot, she said.
The last time an initiative petition failed at this stage was in 1999, Fenumiai said. In that case, a group submitted roughly 25,000 signatures for a measure to increase the minimum wage. The group needed at least 22,715 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the 2000 election but the state was able to validate only 19,523 signatures, she said. The group tried again and submitted about 50,000 signatures this year, said Fenumiai, noting the measure was certified the second time.
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