Bill requires voter OK for capitol

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

When Reps. Bill Stoltze and Carl Gatto heard of Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho's efforts to build a $100 million capitol in Juneau, they proposed having voters' approval of all the costs associated with construction.

"This is a building that the public will be paying for one way or another," Gatto, R-Palmer, told the House State Affairs Committee Tuesday. "In all fairness, the public as a group should make that choice. It is the public's building."

The two Republican lawmakers want to expand the 1978 Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge Initiative to require voter approval of not only the cost of moving the capital away from Juneau but also the cost of building a new capitol in Juneau.

"People deserve to have a voice in the process," Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said.

At the bill's first hearing Tuesday, House State Affairs Committee member Bob Lynn offered to co-sponsor the bill.

"It is plain common sense that before we build a new capitol no matter in Juneau or other parts of Alaska, people in Alaska have a right to know how much it would cost," Lynn, R-Anchorage, said. "I am all for full disclosure and fiscal responsibility."

Another committee member Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, asked Stoltze to justify why the construction of a new capitol needs voters' approval while other state buildings don't.

Stoltze said the capitol has been an controversial issue about which people from his own community and surrounding cities have intense opinions. He said his constituents would prefer to move the capital north to their community.

But former Alaska Attorney General Avrum Gross said the bill fails to define what a capitol is.

"It doesn't say if the capitol includes only the legislative hall or other functions related to the Legislature," Gross said. "If you want to build something for the Legislature, people would sue you to stop you."

Gross said another problem with the bill is that if Juneau decides to issue bonds to build the capitol and the state pays $7 million a year over a 30-year lease, the lease cannot be considered part of the construction cost.

"If there is no cost involved, what are you going to put on the ballot?" he said.

The House State Affairs Committee might hear the bill again Thursday. Once the committee votes on the bill, the bill would be sent to the House Finance Committee for approval.

Gatto added that he doesn't like any of the finalist designs for a new capitol by the four architecture firms selected by Juneau's Capitol Planning Commission. The designs use glass extensively and are strikingly different from any buildings in the surrounding capital.

"They are awful. They don't fit in Juneau or anywhere in Alaska," Gatto said. "It should be designed by an Alaskan architect."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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