Legislative hall bill advances

Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008

The Alaska Legislature on Thursday advanced a bill easing the way for a capital move.

House Bill 54 is sponsored by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Wasilla, who said the bill would allow communities from around the state to bid on the opportunity to build a new legislative hall building.

The winning community would provide a building that meets the bill's specifications and receive the economic development that went along with it.

Another provision of Neuman's bill would repeal the voter-approved FRANK Initiative, which requires voters be told the cost of capital move plans and have a vote on them.

Neuman's bill also would provide 1,000 acres of state land that communities could develop and sell to finance the construction.

Critics, including Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, said the bill was a thinly disguised attempt to eventually move the capital, starting with the Legislature, but Neuman denied that.

"This doesn't say we're moving the legislative hall," he said.

He said Juneau could compete with Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna region or any other community to provide the Legislature's new home.

Neuman had earlier amended his bill to remove a requirement the community have a population of at least 30,000 to compete, but Doll said there was no way a small community would have the financial capability to finance such a project.

Native corporations or others might be able to finance a new capital, he said, or the economic development it would bring might even help a borough develop.

"There's some pretty ingenious people in this state that work on economic development opportunities," he said.

Committee Chairman Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, along with Neuman, had at a previous meeting closed testimony on the bill, but reopened it Thursday for a single person.

Anchorage resident Paul Kendall urged the Legislature to move to benefit the state.

"You have to be among your people," he said.

Capital-move opponents called repeal of the FRANK Initiative, included in this bill, significant.

Rep. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, said he supported repealing the initiative.

"I'm not a big fan of the FRANK Initiative," he said.

The acronym stands for Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge, and the initiative requires an outside commission to calculate capital-move costs and then requires a vote on spending that money.

Coghill said the FRANK Initiative's commission was used to stop a capital move.

"It gets to pump up the cost, make it so untenable that people will choke on it," he said.

Two capital move opponents, Reps. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau and Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, were unable to stop the provision for the FRANK Initiative repeal, but were able to make it clear that that's what the bill would do.

The bill originally listed the numbers of the statutes to be repealed, but didn't say what they were.

Gruenberg said that would mislead the public.

"They won't know what we're talking about until their right is taken away," he said. "Let's be transparent in the way we repeal it."

The bill's text was amended to include mention of the FRANK Initiative, but an attempt to amend the bill's title failed.

Neuman's bill passed out of the House State Affairs Committee on a 4-2 vote and moved to the House Finance Committee. Voting in favor of it were Lynn, Coghill and Reps. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, and Bob Roses, R-Anchorage.

Voting against it were Doll and Gruenberg. Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, was absent.

• Reporter Pat Forgey can be reached at 523-2250 pat.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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