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Botelho ups capitol ante

Mayor's plans for new legislative quarters appear to have stalled

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho says the city might contribute $20 million to building a new capitol.

That figure includes the past purchase of Telephone Hill, the new capitol's future site, and other amenities the city has worked on to enhance the capital.

Even with that suggestion, though, the mayor's plan to build a new legislative hall has stalled with some lawmakers who continue to want to move government north.

In the past week, Botelho was struck by a series of blows to his plan for a $100 million capitol.

The Alaska House of Representatives agreed that no money from this year's state operating budget can be used for building a capitol. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough is pushing to build a legislative building there. Some state legislators say they wouldn't support having the capital in Juneau regardless of the city's investment.

"We don't think we want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a shrine for politicians," said Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla. "The capital should be close to the main populace of Alaska."

That would be in the Anchorage area.

Although Botelho has worked closely with Gov. Frank Murkowski's chief of staff, Jim Clark, the governor hasn't taken a stand.

Botelho said the governor's commitment is important in pushing the Legislature to support it, and the schedule is tight. Botelho wants to dedicate the new capitol in January 2009, to celebrate Alaska's 50th anniversary of statehood.

Despite the hurdles, the mayor remains upbeat.

He said people shouldn't read too much into the House's decision.

"Most capital projects are not funded through the operating budget," Botelho said. "I don't think this is a statement that the representatives rejected Juneau's plan."

Botelho said Juneau probably would contribute about $20 million to the project.

"It reflects the property we already purchased and donated to the state, our waterfront development plan and parking. Those are the elements that would be part of Juneau's contribution to the capital," Botelho said.

Botelho said $20 million is just a rough figure and that the Juneau Assembly hasn't acted upon it yet.

"We don't have the state piece in place," he said.

Juneau City Manager Rod Swope said the city's financial contribution would probably come from the city's 1 percent sales tax, whose renewal will be put on the October ballot for voters' approval.

Normally the 1 percent sales tax generates $7.2 million and is renewed every five years, Swope said.

Botelho called the Mat-Su Borough's plan to build a new legislative building another speed bump.

"They make it clear that they just want to build a legislative hall. They are not talking about moving the capital," Botelho said. "I understand the implications but I have no way to influence the Mat-Su Borough."

One of Mat-Su's legislators doesn't support the borough's plan. Kohring said the borough would be spending taxpayers' money unnecessarily.

"We can just spend a few million retrofitting the Robert Atwood building in downtown Anchorage," Kohring said of a 20-story office building the state owns. "With some work, it could easily accommodate all offices of the Senate, House, governor and headquarters of the various agencies."

Kohring said moving the capital away from Juneau should be conducted in phases to give Juneau time to transform itself into a tourist Mecca or a business center.

Although he opposes building a new capitol, Kohring said he commends Botelho's persistence.

"He does what you expect a Juneau mayor would do: By building a new capitol, he will anchor the capital in Juneau," Kohring said. "I would do the same thing if I lived here."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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