State grant for capitol design steams Gatto

Southcentral legislator asks why funds didn't also go to Palmer, Kenai

Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Matanuska-Susitna Borough legislator rebuked state facilities officials Tuesday when he learned they had funneled $94,500 in state money to Juneau for its capitol design competition.

Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, stumbled onto a document showing the allocation made by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities this winter. It was a little-known expense about which even Juneau's legislators said they were ignorant.

Gatto, who represents a district that has long tried to lure state government from Juneau, called the funding without legislative oversight inappropriate and a breach of authority.

"They should have approached us first," Gatto said.

He noted that the House of Representatives has voted this session to ensure no 2005 operating budget money goes toward construction of a new capitol.

As co-chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Gatto said he would look into reducing the amount of funding for the Transportation Department and Public Facilities.

In February, the department wrote a transfer-of-responsibilities agreement to fund part of Juneau's capitol architectural competition. Before that, there was no indication that the money - left over from state projects - would be used for the purpose.

John Manly, a spokesman for Transportation and Public Facilities, said the department was interested in how government-owned property near the proposed site on Telephone Hill would be incorporated into the design.

"We were not out to deceive anyone," Manly said.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who has led the effort to envision a new capitol, said the city didn't ask for the money. He said Jim Clark, Gov. Frank Murkowski's chief of staff, and Transportation Commissioner Mike Barton told him about the appropriation after it was approved.

"I knew the administration had expressed support for Juneau's efforts, and I am glad that they made the effort," Botelho said.

Juneau Assembly member Merrill Sanford, a member of the city's Capitol Planning Commission, said the state should help pay for the competition.

"If you build a brand-new building in that campus, it has to fit in," Sanford said. "The money was appropriated for that reason. People who are unhappy about the appropriation think the capital should be somewhere else but the capital of Alaska is Juneau."

So far, the city has spent $400,000 on the capitol design competition. Botelho said the city might eventually spend $20 million if the building is completed, including the previous purchase of Telephone Hill, the continuing development of the city's waterfront and the future construction of parking garages.

Gatto said Alaska residents want the capital to move from Juneau to a more central location.

"Why isn't Palmer, or Kenai, or Fairbanks getting any money for a capitol design competition?" he said.

Manly said that if cities in the Mat-Su Borough or other regions plan to build a capitol on or near government property, then the state would consider also giving them funds.

Gatto was not alone in questioning the expense. Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, told The Associated Press he is disappointed the appropriation made it into the budget without lawmakers' knowledge.

"It's got bad faith written all over it," Stoltze said.

Stoltze, a member of the House Finance Committee, called the money a back door appropriation and said he will view future Juneau projects requiring state spending with skepticism.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said Juneau projects should not suffer because of the appropriation.

"It's better to try to take a step back and take a broader view instead of just reacting to something that makes you mad at the moment," she told AP.

The three members of Juneau's legislative delegation said they did not know about the appropriation.

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