The legislative drift

Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

This time around, Juneau may want to wake up and take a more serious interest in the age-old game of move the capital. Two proposals publicized this week call for the relocation of the state Legislature to Anchorage or to the Mat-Su Borough. Make no mistake, if the Legislature moves, the capital and many state employees will be close behind.

It is likely that the two proposals will meet the same fate as all the rest that have come before. Fairbanks Rep. John Coghill, chairman of the House State Affairs committee, is in Anchorage this weekend in a half-hearted attempt to gauge local support for House Bill 1 calling for the Legislature to move there. The measure should die a peaceful death before the end of the session.

The Mat-Su petition initiative does, however, pose a more serious threat. The 29,000 signatures required to place the initiative on the state ballot next year are expected to be easily collected, if a serious effort is made to do so. If it passes the legal hurdles and makes it to the polls, Alaskans will be forced into making a choice.

There are a couple of problems with the Mat-Su/Anchorage initiative from the outset. Firstly, consider the wording of the first paragraph of the initiative:

"All regular and special sessions of the Legislature shall be held at a location within the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. In the event that suitable facilities for these sessions are not available within the Matanuska-Susitna Borough then all sessions shall be held at a location within the Municipality of Anchorage, but only until suitable facilities within the Matanuska-Susitna Borough become available."

This statement appears to be a thinly veiled way of saying the intent is to move the Legislature to Anchorage.

This initiative also blatantly repeals an important initiative passed by the citizens of Alaska in 1978, the FRANK initiative. The statute reads:

"The purpose of (the statute) is to guarantee to the people their right to know and to approve in advance all costs of relocating the capital or the legislature; to insure that the people will have an opportunity to make an informed and objective decision on relocating the capital or the legislature with all pertinent data concerning the costs to the state; and to insure that the costs of relocating the capital or the legislature will not be incurred by the state without the approval of the electorate."

In the Mat-Su legislative move initiative, Section 2(f) deletes the words "or the legislature" from the state statute enacted by the voters in the FRANK initiative, thus repealing the requirement for a vote on the full cost of a move. This ill-conceived effort will certainly see legal challenges.

In 1994 the Mat-Su valley was clamoring for growth and development. Today, the thirst for development may have diminished by many who have seen their district absorb the outflow from Anchorage. Perhaps the support to bring the state capital to the Mat-Su Borough may not be as great as the authors of the initiative believe.

Presuming the above mentioned Legislature move proposals fail, the next generation of Legislature-movers may see more support. The state of Alaska will see a major seismic shift when the final census figures are released and reapportionment locates the demographic epicenter farther north. The census figures will offer some startling revelations.

The numbers will show that the area between Homer and Wasilla has seen fantastic growth. Since the last census, Anchorage along with the Mat-Su valley has led the state in population growth. A July 1999 Department of Labor study estimates the 10-year gain for Anchorage District 19 at about 5,000 and District 28 in the Mat-Su valley with a gain of about 8,000.

By contrast, Southeast Alaska has not fared as well. The same report estimates that Southeast Alaska has picked up about 7,000 residents.

Since the last capital move vote was won by just 54 percent, or around 20,000 votes, the outcome of the next serious challenge could be dicey.

Capital move proposals seem to be as ubiquitous as the Juneau rain. The Mat-Su initiative appears to be a little more serious than the rest. Every citizen in this community has a stake in seeing to it that the capital stays right where it is. There is much we could be doing. Discuss the issue with your friends and neighbors. We need to take a hard look at things we can be doing to address the physical and aesthetic problems with the current capital facilities. Juneau must take a much bolder approach in demonstrating its pride as Alaska's capital. The time for action is now.

-- Don Smith

Juneau Empire Publisher

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