This week, the State Division of Elections certified signatures on a petition to move the Legislature to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The question will be put to voters in November. There are many problems with this ballot proposition, beginning with the attempt to deprive Alaskans of knowing how much such a move would cost.
Buried deep in the ballot language - so deep in fact, that you cannot know by reading it - is a provision to repeal a key portion of the FRANK initiative (Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge). The FRANK initiative, approved in 1994, gives Alaskans the right to know and vote on the cost of any capital or legislative move. The upcoming initiative would take away that right.
Although dressed up as "only" a move of the Legislature, make no mistake, this is an attempt to move the capital, starting with the Legislature. Sponsors hope that voters will believe that moving the Legislature to the Mat-Su will result in a more efficient government, but moving the Legislature does just the opposite and pits one area of the state against another.
The proposal really requires two costly and cumbersome moves - first to Anchorage until "suitable facilities" become available in the Mat-Su Borough, then again to Mat-Su. Not only will Alaskans pay for moving the Legislature twice, but we will also pay the cost of all leasehold improvements and one-time costs associated with equipping and furnishing multiple buildings. All state-owned legislative facilities in Juneau, which are completely paid for, would then be vacant. In addition, a divided capital is inefficient and wasteful.
Would a move be a responsible action? No. In a time when even our legislators have been admonished by Sen. Ted Stevens to come together and "stop the bickering," when the rest of the nation is working toward common goals against terrorism, when the state is wrestling with a billion-dollar revenue shortfall, this, of all times, is the time to pull together, not wage a bitter battle of region against region. The Interior has the statewide university; the North Slope has oil; Southcentral is the center of commerce; and Southeast is the seat of government. Each region has an identity; all are interdependent.
While the state faces billion dollar budget shortfalls, every region of the state and every one of our public institutions - from our public schools to our public safety officers - will be competing for limited financial resources. A legislative move will divert attention away from critical social and economic problems Alaskans should be working cooperatively to solve. Moving the Legislature is not a productive use of Alaskans' money, time or energy.
Is Juneau under threat? Yes, as is all of Southeast. One-third of the jobs in the region are in government, and 42 percent of these are in the state system. Not only will the region lose state jobs, support services and other sectors of the economy will feel the domino effect. Many federal jobs will follow the capital, and tourism will be affected by Juneau's loss of the title, "Capital City."
Are we continuing to improve as a capital city? Yes. The CBJ is a major contributor to the Alaska Committee, a nonprofit organization of citizens working to improve our capital. Together with private businesses, the Alaska Committee has sponsored the "Gavel-to-Gavel" program, which provides live television and Internet coverage of the Legislature. They have also partnered with Alaska Airlines to sponsor the Constituent Airfare Program that offers Alaskans an inexpensive round-trip fare to visit the capital during the legislative session. In addition, the Alaska Committee, Alaska Airlines and the FAA have worked together to develop and provide equipment that has improved our airport, giving it one of the best approach and departure systems in the country.
Can we win this fight? Absolutely. We've done it before, and we can do it again. United and focused, we will prevail. The Alaska Committee, with city, business, and individual contributions, is planning a campaign to defeat the initiative, but it will take all of us working together to make it so. The committee will be asking you for your contributions and your time. Please help. If we all roll up our sleeves, we can effectively carry the message that Juneau, as Alaska's capital, is a great host community for the Alaska State Legislature and a capital Alaska can be proud of.
Sally Smith has served three terms in the Legislature and been the director of two state agencies.