The export of 44 jobs - is it capital creep?

Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2004

Editor's note: This is the third part of a three-day series that looks at the relocation of the Alaska Marine Highway System headquarters from Juneau to Ketchikan. The other stories include:

• Thursday: What the move means for ferry system workers and a closer look at expected savings from the move

• Friday: How the move could affect Juneau and what relocation means for Ketchikan

• Today: Is this capital creep and a look at the building that will house the agency

The state's decision to move 44 marine highway jobs out of Juneau raises the specter of shipping out another 284 jobs to Ketchikan.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough sent a lease proposal on March 1 giving the option to move 284 additional Department of Transportation employees to the old Ketchikan Pulp Co. administration building. The same building will house the headquarters of the Alaska Marine Highway System, now based in Juneau, but slated to move this summer.

The governor's spokesman, John Manly, said he is unaware of any plans to move more state jobs out of the capital.

But the relocation of the ferry system headquarters, as well as Ketchikan's lease proposal, has some Juneau residents wondering if this is the re-emergence of capital creep.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, called the move of ferry system employees "job creep." He defined the term as jobs moving out of the capital for bad policy reasons.

During his run for governor in 2002, then-U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski decried the state's decision to allow commissioners to live and work outside the capital city. Calling the movement of state jobs out of Juneau "capital creep," Murkowski promised to bring the commissioners back and put an end to state jobs leaving the capital.

Murkowski's spokesman, Manly, now says the movement of the marine highway jobs out of Juneau is not capital creep.

"I think the classic definition of capital creep is moving jobs from Juneau away to the Anchorage area," Manly said. "The fear here in Juneau was that they were going to get them one job at a time.

"Ketchikan is not trying to steal the capital."

Manly said the move is based on better management of the marine highway fleet.

"(The governor) is not moving jobs out of Juneau just to move jobs out of Juneau," Manly said.

When asked if he would move any other agencies at a recent Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Murkowski said: "Well, if you have any suggestions I'll consider them."

Sen. Elton said this isn't the first time "job creep" has threatened Juneau.

In July 1997, a few months after the Ketchikan Pulp Co. closed its doors and laid off more than 500 employees, Alaska's congressional delegation announced plans to move some 200 U.S. Forest Service jobs from Juneau to Ketchikan, a move estimated to cost taxpayers up to $20 million.

Shortly after the move proposal became public, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said it was intended to help Ketchikan cope with the economics of the declining timber industry.

Murkowski's office, though, said the Forest Service move would achieve administrative improvements, just as he now says the ferry system move would.

The proposal, along with talk of moving the 17th Coast Guard district from Juneau to Sitka, ultimately died.

"If you look at the history, you can predict that this is history repeating itself at Juneau's expense," Elton said.

More legislative hearings to discuss the proposed move are scheduled, said Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee, a local group committed to fighting capital move attempts and keeping state jobs in Juneau.

"I see no reason for us to take a position on that specific move, if we need to, unless all the evidence is in, and it doesn't sound like it is yet," Gruening said.

He said it is not clear whether the move constitutes capital creep.

The move seems to be an attempt to save money and make the ferry system more efficient, he said.

"That's not what we would consider capital creep, if that's what it is," he said. "I guess capital creep to us, at least in past years, has been the movement of jobs and positions to other cities just for, I guess for lack of a better term, convenience sake."

Gruening said the Alaska Committee has focused on keeping commissioners' jobs in Juneau in the past.

He said that in past years there were a number of commissioners living outside of the capital.

Both gubernatorial candidates Gov. Frank Murkowski and Fran Ulmer in the 2002 election promised to require commissioners to live in Juneau.

"As far as I know the governor has lived up to that promise," Gruening said.

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