The Knowles administration has asked for an architectural analysis of what it would cost to move the governor's and lieutenant governor's offices out of the Capitol.
The study is in reaction to a bill by Rep. Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican, to give control of the third floor of the Capitol to the Legislative Council, a group of legislators who make internal administrative and budgetary decisions. The Legislature is responsible for the other five floors of the building.
Ogan's bill was approved by the House State Affairs Committee this morning, and now moves to the Finance Committee.
Administration Commissioner Jim Duncan said the Juneau firm of Jensen Yorba Lott Inc. has been retained to study the effects of moving the governor and lieutenant governor to the 11th floor of the State Office Building, displacing the Department of Revenue.
The study, due no later than April 1, will look at the cascading movement of state agencies caused by that change, any need for leasing more space, and the costs of mechanical and electrical work and asbestos removal, Duncan said. For example, the 11th floor would have to be remodeled with hard walls for security of the governor, he said.
The governor's office issued a fiscal note for the bill that included no numbers. Instead, Michael Nizich, administrative director for the governor, said a revised fiscal note would be submitted when the architectural study is completed.
Ogan called that "a stalling tactic to hold the legislation up," and he argued that his bill doesn't incur any costs because it only transfers authority over the third floor of the Capitol from the governor to the Legislature. The Legislative Council would have to make a separate decision to move the governor and lieutenant governor, and then would have to submit a budget for that to the legislative finance committees.
Committee members agreed that the fiscal note should be zero, but differed with Ogan on the study, which they welcomed.
"I don't think you should consider that a threat against this piece of legislation," House Majority Leader Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican, told Ogan.
Ogan, who wants to move legislative sessions out of Juneau, said opening up the third floor would ease the tight quarters in the meantime. He said the potential eviction is not directed against Knowles, a Democrat, and probably wouldn't take effect until he's out of office in two years.
"This room is a prime example of why we need more space in the Capitol," Ogan said, referring to Room 102, in which some members of the audience were sitting just 2 feet away from the legislators' table. He also recounted a mishap in a recent hearing featuring Attorney General Bruce Botelho. "A staffer got up to leave I think they tripped on the attorney general's foot."
Not all state capitols have the governor's office in them, and the U.S. Capitol doesn't house the president or his staff, Ogan said.
Rep. Peggy Wilson, a Wrangell Republican who previously served in the North Carolina House, said she was surprised at the tight quarters in Alaska. Constituents travel to Juneau at considerable expense and then can't get into hearings sometimes, she said.
Duncan emphasized that he wasn't taking a position on the merits of the bill.
Later, Bob King, press secretary for Knowles, said he wouldn't comment on whether the governor would sign or veto the bill, should it reach his desk.
But King said legislators should have considered the need for larger hearing rooms and offices when they spent $3.4 million to convert the former Capital School into the Terry Miller Legislative Office Building in 1999, including a small sauna and a small exercise room along with offices for legislative support agencies. "Now they're coming back and saying, 'Oh, we don't have enough space for the public.' They should have accommodated those needs."
But Knowles, who was in Calgary, Alberta, this morning to discuss a natural gas pipeline with Canadian officials, will be focusing on weightier issues this session, King said.
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.