Empire editorial: Legislative Hall bill would concentrate power in Anchorage

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2008

Should the seat of Alaska's government reside in Anchorage?

If you peel away the layers of obfuscation, that's really what House Bill 54, which would build a new legislative hall, is all about.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, claims the legislation would allow all Alaska communities a chance to house the Legislature. But a closer look reveals that only one community can meet the criteria required by the legislation - Anchorage.

And make no mistake, building a new legislative hall means moving the capital. Gov. Sarah Palin has said that if the Legislature moves, the top executive branch offices, including the governor's, would relocate to be close to lawmakers.

The way the bill moved out of the House Finance Committee smacks of political strong-arming and opportunism. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, who has said in the past he'd oppose moving the capital to Anchorage, cast a key vote for the legislation. But in a bill report signed after the vote, Kelly recommended that other legislators "do not pass" the bill. In fact, four other "do not pass" recommendations suggest that other Republicans in the majority caucus were pressured to support the bill by House leaders.

Only two committee members advised "do pass" in the bill report.

It's also important to note that bill backers would not have been able to push the bill through had they not taken advantage of the absence of two likely dissenters, who were out due to medical reasons. Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Bethel, delivered a baby the day before the vote, and House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez - a longtime capital-move supporter - stepped in for Rep. Richard Foster, D-Nome, who is awaiting a kidney replacement.

Having gained traction by dubious means, the bill will eventually go before the full House. It's important that legislators realize the legislation really is a capital-move effort and that it will only benefit the state's largest population center.

Moving the capital to Anchorage does not alleviate access issues. Lawmakers and constituents stretching from the Bush to Southeast would still have to travel long distances to attend legislative sessions. Concentrating power in Anchorage would disenfranchise large swaths of the state not connected to the road grid and would devastate the Panhandle.

This bad piece of misleading legislation should have died in committee long ago, but now the full House has the opportunity to vote it down on the floor. We urge representatives to realize the true intent of House Bill 54 and vote no.

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