This week's revelation and rejection of a state allocation to help Juneau design a controversial new capitol illustrates the mighty sales job ahead for the city.
It's time to start making the pitch plainly, and for the governor to get behind it if he sincerely supports Juneau's continued existence as the state capital.
Not surprisingly, lawmakers from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough were angry when they learned that the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities slipped $94,500 to Juneau to help with its architectural design contest. The Mat-Su always has and maybe always will want to be the capital. In fact, the borough has renewed its efforts to secure funding for a legislative hall in Anchorage's backyard.
The helpful hand engineered by department officials and the governor's chief of staff may have been a legitimate state facilities expense - a capitol certainly is a state facility - but it turned into a public-relations blunder when objectors called it underhanded. The governor may have lessened the damage to Juneau's aspirations by quickly asking for the money back and saying his appointees had made a mistake. Apologies from staffers also helped to accentuate that this was not Juneau's theft; it was the state's gift, however ill-advised.
Now that behind-the-scenes funding has been established as a no-no, it's time for both the city and the administration to start attacking the funding issue directly and in the open.
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho estimates his plan for a new capitol will cost $100 million. His proposal is for the city to use bonds to build the structure and then use a long-term lease with the state to cover those bonds. Those who oppose Juneau's retention of state government scoff, as do many of their constituents. This raises the likelihood that the city may have to contribute more than just a past land purchase, a parking structure and a pretty landscape if it wants a badly needed new hall of government. Until now, the lend-lease idea has been derided by opponents as a pipe dream. The city needs to come up with a real, palatable plan to raise the money before the project becomes a joke - or before the Mat-Su pulls together funding for a legislative building of its own.
Likewise, it's time for the governor to put his money where his mouth is. His swift action on Wednesday shouldn't be his last in this matter. If Murkowski wants the capital to stay in Juneau, as he has said he does, the city needs his help.
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