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Developers in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are salivating over 1,000 acres that could someday become a new legislative hall, plus homes and hotels for lawmakers and staffs, according to a scenario described by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake.
If the Alaska Legislature passes House Bill 23, bidding on a new capitol will be fair game for any borough with a population of more than 30,000, including Juneau. The bill was heard in the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday, but action is not expected on the measure until next week.
While Neuman painted a rosy economic picture for his district, Rep. Jim Elkins, R-Ketchikan, said if the legislators do not meet in Juneau, Southeast Alaska will be left behind.
"When talking about taking an economic engine away from Juneau, it has a major impact on the Southeast," Elkins said. "I think it's totally inappropriate for this body to consider taking economic sanctions against another community, when their economies are all cranking and doing very well."
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, garnered more debate over a new clause asking to repeal the FRANK Initiative, a citizens' measure approved on the 1994 ballot requiring voter knowledge and approval of the costs for moving the capital or Legislature. FRANK stands for Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge.
Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, a critic of the bill, said if the FRANK Initiative is repealed, Alaskans may not be informed of the financial aspects of the construction.
Rokeberg, a career commercial real estate developer, said municipalities should foot the bill for the new building, leaving the state to pay only relocation costs. He said the FRANK Initiative is not necessary under his legislation.
Juneau would have a good chance of winning the bid if it demonstrates the city can fund the costs, Rokeberg said. Still, he suggests that Anchorage add five floors to the top of its 20-story Robert Atwood state office building to house a new legislative hall.
The bill does not call for a full-blown capital move involving the relocation of each department and related offices. But Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho called this bill a "capital move in disguise."
The legislative session is deeply connected to the city's economy, Botelho said.
"Government is the business of Juneau," he said.
This is an issue about which Juneau residents should not be complacent, the mayor added. If the bill passes out of the State Affairs Committee, it heads to the House Finance Committee, on which two Juneau representatives sit, Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, and Bruce Weyhrauch, a Republican.
Whether or not Juneau is chosen, Rokeberg argues a new legislative hall needs to be built somewhere in the state as the Capitol now presents serious maintenance problems.
Andrew Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.