Juneau fights to keep Legislature

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Juneau residents on Tuesday urged lawmakers against taking away the public's right to know what a capital move would cost.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

That measure is part of a bill that allows communities or others to compete to build a hall for the Alaska Legislature, potentially moving it out of Juneau.

"The people's right to know is being repealed in this legislation," said Win Gruening, a local banker and volunteer chairman of the Alaska Committee, devoted to Juneau's anti-capital move effort.

House Bill 54, sponsored by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Wasilla, would repeal what's known as the FRANK Initiative, a measure that was passed by voters and would require the costs of any capital move be known and approved by the public. FRANK stands for Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge.

Juneau resident Thom Buzard criticized legislators for trying to bolster their own communities by slashing into Juneau's economy.

The FRANK Initiative that Neuman would repeal would require an assessment of what a move would cost the Juneau economy.

"Shame on you," Buzard said. "The people voted on that very, very clearly."

Neuman said he hopes his bill would give Alaskans better access to their capital by enabling the three-quarters of the citizens on the road system to drive to the Capitol.

Juneau representatives said it appeared to be designed to make it impossible for Juneau to compete to retain the Legislature. Neuman denied that.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said no issue in the history of the state had been voted on by the public as much as the capital move, and now the Legislature was considering substituting its preference for that of the people it represents.

Neuman's bill, he said, would "override the repeated expressions of the people."

Neuman responded that his constituents supported his bill.

"It has been very popular with the people I represent," he said.

The bill would provide a new legislative hall at no cost to the state because it would be built by a local community or private developer. It calls for providing up to 1,000 acres of state land to the community or developer at no cost to help finance the legislative hall.

Botelho said providing 1,000 acres of state land was an appropriation of state money for the project. If there really was no cost, he said, the repeal of the FRANK Initiative wouldn't be needed.

State Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said there seemed to be a "pretty good groundswell" of support for a capital move among legislators. He questioned whether they were trying to repeal the FRANK Initiative so the public wouldn't know what a capital move would cost.

"They don't want to know the cost," he said.

The meeting was chaired by Rep. Kevin Meyer, one of the Finance Committee's co-chairmen. He has an explicit capital move bill of his own, but said Tuesday he prefers Neuman's bill.

Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting adjourned without any action.

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