Juneau's subport hopes face crunch time

Indications for the Juneau project are both good and bad

Posted: Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A new state office building on Juneau's subport property has been stalled in the Senate Finance committee for more than a year with no visible action.

Now, with less than two weeks left in the legislative session, there are new indications of the likely fate of the bill, the community's top legislative priority.

One of those is good, new interest in the bill from the Senate Finance Committee. The other is bad, with a bill supporter apparently giving up hope on the subport effort.

Bill sponsor Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, said the bill, which would provide new office space for Juneau's Department of Labor and Workforce Development workers, as well as for smaller numbers of employees from other departments.

"The Public Safety and Fish and Game buildings especially, those two facilities are in pretty sad shape and need to be rehabbed or replaced very soon," Muñoz said.

The state Department of Administration, which is responsible for providing space for state workers, is hoping to move employees out of the Department of Labor building at the foot of the Douglas Bridge.

Muñoz said she's encouraged by Senate Finance staff seeking additional information about the subport bill.

"This is the first time in months they have requested additional information from our office on the bill, so that's a good sign," she said.

Even though there are only two weeks left in the session, Juneau's delegation is working very hard to get the bill a hearing to make their case.

It was almost a year ago, in the first year of the two-year legislative session, that Muñoz' bill passed the House unanimously.

The more troubling note about the bill is a recent development. A provision that had been amended into the bill in the House, which would have authorized the state to purchase a small office building from a Valdez-area Native corporation, was added to another bill.

Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, sat on the committee when that provision was added to the bill, after which the bill began to move.

Now, that purchase language has been moved to a different bill, a veteran's benefit with widespread support.

"It definitely raised concerns," Muñoz said of the shift of Harris' provision to a different bill.

She said she was continuing to try and work with Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, to get the bill heard.

Stedman was unavailable for comment Monday.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Junuea, said she was hopeful as well that the bill would get a hearing and win passage.

"I don't know why it's been so difficult," she said "It's a big project, and anytime the state's involved with millions of dollars it can be difficult."

The proposed subport development on Juneau's waterfront would have the Alaska Mental Health Land Trust, which owns the property, build a $50 million, multi-story building on the property and then lease it to the state.

It would be financed with a combination of Trust funds and state-issued certificates of participation, similar to bonds. Lease payments would pay back the borrowed money and help pay for Trust beneficiaries.

Muñoz said senators' questions were related to other options for state involvement in financing the building, or possible private sector involvement.

She said the current proposal would be good for the state because it would help Trust beneficiaries as well as provide new public infrastructure in Juneau.

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

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