Juneau legislators are disputing an Anchorage Daily News story that states members of the city’s delegation have successfully killed a capital move effort.
“I don’t think we can ever stop being vigilant about a capital move,” said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, House Minority Leader.
The Daily News story quoted Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, as saying she was going to hold a bill by fellow Republican Reps. Mark Neuman and Bill Stoltze, of Big Lake and Chugiak, respectively, in a committee she chairs, the Community and Regional Affairs Committee.
“It’s not my intent to move the bill,” she told the Daily News.
The state’s largest paper’s headline for the story online was “Push to move capital from Juneau killed.”
Daily News editors have since changed the headline online to match the print version, with the less explicit statement the bill “gets no momentum.”
The bill is not an actual capital move, but an effort to allow local communities to compete to build a new “legislative hall” in which the Alaska Legislature would then meet.
Juneau representatives have seen that as a threat.
House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, referred the bill to various committees, with its first referral being to Muñoz’ committee.
What the Daily News did not say was Neuman introduced a similar bill last year which was referred to the same committee. It sat for two years without a hearing, and Neuman never requested a hearing.
Daily News State/Local News Editor David Hulen defended the prominently placed story.
“The story makes it clear this same bill has floundered in the past. That’s really the theme of the story, that this once-hot issue has been shoved far onto the back burner.” Hulen said.
Neuman later told the Empire that despite not requesting a hearing, he supported the bill he sponsored.
Often, when a legislator introduces a bill but takes no steps to get a hearing or move it from committee, it means they’re doing it to mollify constituents but the bill is not a high personal priority.
Neuman said Monday this year he intends to request a hearing, and the Sunday ADN story resulted in new support from his district for his efforts.
“I’m glad I’m able to continue to advance the project,” he said. “We’re working out the logistics now.”
Muñoz said if Neuman does request a hearing she’ll give the bill a hearing, but she doesn’t intend to let the bill move out of her committee.
The bill’s two sponsors are both members of the powerful House Finance Committee, with Stoltze serving as its co-chairman. It’s rare for a member to publicly challenge a finance committee member, given the opportunities for retribution.
Neuman, though, said he would not retaliate against Juneau or Muñoz if they fail to pass his bill.
“I’m not a tit-for-tat person, that’s not appropriate,” he said.
Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said it’s good the legislative hall bill isn’t moving in the House, but called it a “back-door capital move,” and said such divisive legislation is unlikely to get traction in the Senate’s bipartisan majority caucus either.
“There’s not a lot of interest — actually there’s no interest — in a capital move or a back-door capital move in the Senate,” Egan said.
Some of the Senate’s most powerful members, including President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, come from communities that have supported keeping the capital in Juneau or opposed more concentration of power in Southcentral Alaska.
Neuman denied his bill was a capital move bill, as it was characterized by the Daily News and Egan.
“Let me be clear, we’re not talking about moving the capital, just the legislative meetings,” he said.
Hulen and Kerttula disputed that, with Kerttula saying all previous legislative hall proposals have been intended to eventually result in a move of the entire capital.
“It always has been in the past, and at some point the sponsors usually would admit it,” she said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250.