Juneau supporters try to fend off push for state capital move

Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rep. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, triggered plenty of dispute on Tuesday when he told a legislative committee that moving the Alaska Legislature to Anchorage wouldn't hurt business in Juneau.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

"I can't see this would be a major impact on your economy," Meyer said.

Meyer's House Bill 293 would move legislative sessions to Anchorage, a longtime goal of Anchorage-area legislators. He told the House State Affairs Committee that his bill would increase openness in state government, which the public has said it wants.

The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday, in part because two members, Reps. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, and Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, were absent due to illness.

Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, said the return of the two representatives would not likely changed the outcome of the vote, and she would have preferred the measure be voted on Tuesday.

"I was ready to see it defeated today," she said afterwards.

At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Sarah Palin said it was up to the Legislature to decide where to meet, and if it passed Meyer's bill she would not veto it.

Juneau Chamber of Commerce CEO Cathie Roemmich disputed Meyer's statements about the effect that moving the Legislature would have on Juneau.

"It would devastate our economy, and not just Juneau, but all of Southeast," she said.

The capital would remain officially in Juneau, but former Juneau state legislator Jim Duncan said losing the Legislature would be the beginning of the end for Juneau.

"When the Legislature goes, the bureaucracy will go," he said.

Bruce Botelho, Juneau's mayor and former Alaska attorney general, said it "really is a move of the capital itself."

Meyer's bill also would take another major step Juneau supporters see as threatening the capital. It would repeal a law known as the "Frank Initiative," which requires that voters approve the cost of any capital move.

Now is the time to make such a costly move, Meyer said.

"We're fortunate because we do have surplus money, so if we are going to do something like this, now would be the time," he said.

The Legislature needs to be "as accessible and open to the public as we can," Meyer said.

When citizens attend sessions in person, they can see "what notes are being passed to who," he said. Oil industry supporters were reported to have passed notes on the House floor to legislators to whom they'd paid bribes.

The Legislature already held one "very successful" special session in Anchorage, Meyer said.

Last June the Legislature met in Anchorage to approve a senior benefits program.

"I wasn't particularly impressed with the session we had in Anchorage," said Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan.

All that session did, he said, was complete work done in Juneau in the regular session.

"All we did was gavel in and rubber-stamp it," he said.

Committee member Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he has long supported moving the capital, though the voters in his district oppose moving it to Anchorage.

Despite his preference, Coghill said Meyer's proposal hadn't yet won his vote.

"I don't think I'm there yet," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at523-2250 or by e-mail at eepatrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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