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Plan to build new offices for Anchorage legislators stalled

Posted: Thursday, April 03, 2008

Bills calling for construction of a new Anchorage office building for lawmakers are stalled in both houses of the Alaska Legislature and appear dead, said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, on Wednesday.

The push to construct a new building raised concerns among some in Juneau that it was part of "capital creep," the slow draining away of parts of the capital to the state's largest city.

"The good news is that we don't need to worry if there are ulterior motives," Elton said.

The Legislative Council, a joint House-Senate committee that runs the operations of the Legislature, decided in January to move ahead with building a new office space for Anchorage legislators and legislative staff, in conjunction with an upgrade to space for the Alaska court system.

The council took that action over Elton's objections, but he said concerns over rising costs seem to have doomed the project.

"On my list of needs, and I think on most Alaskans' list of needs, I don't think new offices rate very high," he said.

Estimated costs of the project have soared from $40 million to $86 million, according to legislative staff.

After the Legislature's January action, bills were introduced in the House and Senate authorizing the Legislative Council to enter into a lease-to-purchase agreement but neither got hearings and it is not clear whether their sponsors even asked for hearings.

The Senate Rules Committee, then chaired by the Legislative Council chairman, Sen. John Cowdery, R-Anchorage, sponsored a bill to authorize a lease that would ultimately lead to the purchase of the new building.

The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where it sits among more than 100 other bills awaiting action. Elton is a member of that committee, and its co-chairman is Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, one of Southeast's most powerful legislators and a supporter of Juneau as the capital.

Elton said that despite the fact that the new building appears to have faltered, Anchorage legislative offices are still inadequate.

"They're not palatial, and the building they are in has significant problems," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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