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Capital advocates fear creep

Bills threatening Juneau's status not as dangerous as shift of state jobs, observers say

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2008

Some legislative observers don't think a new bill to move the capital from Juneau to Anchorage has much of a chance.

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A bigger concern though is the incremental shift of jobs out of town, a trend known locally as "capital creep."

Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, pre-filed the capital-move bill for the legislative session, which starts Tuesday. That bill joins one introduced at the start of the session last year to build a new "legislative hall" in the Anchorage area, introduced by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Wasilla.

Juneau's Alaska Committee was formed to oppose a capital move, but Chairman Win Gruening said while capital defenders need to be concerned about the bills, he doubts they have the support to pass.

"There's been some kind of capital move or legislative move in the Legislature probably every session for years now, and none of them have passed," he said.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, agreed.

"Sometimes people talk a good story about moving the capital, everybody puts it in their campaign fliers, but nothing much ever happens," he said.

Lynn said he personally supports moving the capital, but doesn't see much passion for what would be an intense battle in the Legislature.

Such support, he said, is "maybe more for politics than actually moving the capital."

Lynn has put the issue on his campaign fliers himself, he said.

Meyer has announced he is running for the Alaska Senate, for a seat now held by Sen. John Cowdery, who is not running for re-election.

Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, said Meyer's effort should not be dismissed.

"Kevin Meyer is a powerful figure, and one has to take note that this is a serious attempt," she said.

Neuman's bill has yet to receive a hearing, though he is much less influential than Meyer, co-chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee. Even if Meyer's bill were to be routed to committees chaired by capital-move supporters, Doll said the full House was unlikely to support it.

"I don't see this as getting enough votes to get out of the House," she said.

"I think cooler heads will prevail," agreed Gruening.

A bigger threat, Doll said, may be the slow loss of state government jobs from Juneau that would undermine the city's stance as the seat of government.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, is working on a study on the number of state government jobs lost recently, but is not ready to release it, his staff said.

Gruening said that's valuable information the city needs to help maintain the capital.

"There's a lot of anecdotal information out there, but we don't know what the actual numbers are," he said. "The anecdotal reports suggest the problem is serious."

State Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she's pondering legislation that would require the executive branch to notify the public any time a job is relocated.

"Maybe the way to approach this is to just give notice before any job is moved," she said. "What that does is allow the time to say, 'Wait, that doesn't make sense.'"

"As it is now, things get moved and we hear about it after the fact," Kerttula said.

She speculated that Gov. Sarah Palin might support such a bill.

"She's the one who says, 'Let's have a transparent government,'" Kerttula said.

Palin supported moving the capital as mayor of Wasilla, but as governor said she no longer supports that. She's raised local concerns, however, with some of her actions, including becoming the first governor in the state's history to be sworn in outside Juneau and advocating a legislative session outside Juneau.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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