Legislature moves forward with Anchorage office

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2008

The Alaska Legislature moved forward Thursday with plans for a new regional office building in Anchorage, despite concerns over a possible capital move and skyrocketing costs.

"I'm still not convinced that this isn't the start of a capital move," said Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, during a meeting of the Legislative Council on Thursday.

The council, a legislative committee made up of members of the House and Senate that runs the operations of the Legislature, voted 11-2 to move forward with plans for the building.

Voting "no" were Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, and Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks.

Wilson voted "yes" after being assured by Ryan Makinster, an aide to Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, that the building couldn't be expanded to provide offices for all 60 legislators. That might have suggested a new capitol.

The building will provide offices for 14 representatives and seven senators from the Anchorage area, along with offices for the House and Senate leadership, Makinster said.

Existing legislative offices in Anchorage, such as the Ombudsman and Ethics Committee, would move from leased space to the new building.

Makinster assured Wilson that space in the new building was so tight that it can't accommodate more offices, and more floors aren't structurally possible.

"If you wanted more offices you'd have to add more floor space, which you can't do," he said.

Makinster also revealed that projected prices for the new building had risen from about $40 million to $86 million.

Makinster said that at one time the city of Anchorage was to participate in the development of what's known as Block 39 in Anchorage, but has since decided against that. Instead, the building will be built jointly by the Legislature and the state court system, and provide needed new offices for both.

Elton said that given the new, higher cost and demands on the justice system, the additional money might be better spent on expediting cases, reducing case loads or beefing up the Village Public Safety Officer program.

Cowdery, participating by teleconference, invited court Deputy Administrative Director Chris Christensen to respond to Elton, but Christensen declined.

"This is really a legislative decision," he said.

Cowdery is chairman of the Legislative Council, but participated by phone from Anchorage where he'd been recovering from medical problems while the council's vice chairwoman, Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, R-Anchorage, ran the meeting.

Elton urged the committee to delay action until it determined that the project really made sense.

"We just found out the price of the building had doubled," he said.

Despite Elton's objections, Sen. President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, made the motion to move forward with the new building, which passed easily.

• Contact reporterPat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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