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Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin strongly supported an initiative to move the legislative session to her borough four months ago but distanced herself from the measure on Thursday in a speech in Juneau.
Palin, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce she has reservations about the measure because it would repeal a portion of the so-called FRANK initiative - a law requiring a public vote before the state may spend money to move the Legislature.
"That scares a lot of people," said Palin, 37, in her first public address to Juneau business and civic leaders since announcing her candidacy for statewide office in December.
However, it is unclear how she would vote on the measure, which would move the session to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough by 2005. Palin told the chamber she signed a petition in August to get the question on the ballot "in the spirit of valley unity" and to give voters a say. But she did not state her position on the initiative.
Palin repeatedly deflected the question after the chamber meeting, then said she was undecided.
"There is a part of me that says it makes sense to allow a more accessible 120 days of meetings," said Palin. But she said the provision to repeal part of the FRANK initiative caused her "great concern."
That contrasts with her comments in September, three months before she announced her candidacy for lieutenant governor. Palin told a Wasilla reporter working for Juneau's KTOO-TV she supported the measure and that moving the session would serve the "greater good" because it would make the Legislature more accessible. Palin said she was not convinced a session move would adversely affect the economies of Southeast communities, including Juneau.
"I'm comfortable supporting this because I know Juneau has a strong, strong tourism industry," Palin said on a recording of the nine-minute interview kept by KTOO-TV.
She went a step further, saying the measure would help Juneau because it would give more Alaskans access to the Legislature and thereby improve the laws that affect all residents.
"If moving the legislative session helps the laws that affect all of us, then I'm a supporter of that," Palin said.
Palin said today she had second thoughts about the measure late last year after the state released new numbers on the size of the fiscal gap, projected to be $1.2 billion next year. Palin said she wants to know how much a session move would cost before committing to a position.
"I think everybody is going to have to be undecided until we know what it's going to cost," she said.
Palin also told the chamber she does not support moving the capital and that Juneau's battle to keep state government here might end if the capital city were connected to the rest of the state by road, prompting applause from the crowd of about 70 people.
She said she has fought to reduce property taxes and eliminate some business taxes during her tenure as mayor and a four-year stint as councilwoman. She voiced reservations about an income tax to help close the state fiscal gap and supported sound resource development.
Palin works as full-time mayor of Wasilla, which has a strong-mayor form of government. The former high school basketball champion is married and has four children. She will face Republicans Gail Phillips of Homer, Sen. Loren Leman of Anchorage, and Sen. Robin Taylor of Wrangell in the primary, set for Aug. 27.
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.