After the Juneau Assembly agreed Thursday to return state money for a capitol design contest, Mayor Bruce Botelho wondered whether his dream of a new capitol will become a reality.
The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities appropriated $94,500 to Juneau on April 4 to fund the city's capitol design competition. The appropriation drew criticism from some lawmakers and Gov. Frank Murkowski, saying it was inappropriate.
The state grant was about 25 percent of what Juneau has spent on the design competition.
Murkowski said the money was appropriated for maintaining, managing and planning the state's 1,700 buildings all over Alaska, not for partially funding Juneau's design competition. He demanded Juneau return the money.
The Juneau Assembly voted Thursday to comply, but Botelho said he was surprised by the governor's response.
"I was also surprised that the governor wasn't aware that the money was appropriated and transferred to the city," Botelho said.
Juneau didn't ask for the funding. Jim Clark, Murkowski's chief of staff, and Transportation Commissioner Mike Barton told Botelho about the appropriation after the money was approved.
Botelho said although he can understand the governor's perspective, he thinks the funding was appropriate.
"This is about constructing a new capitol in the seat of the state," he said.
But the mayor recognizes the damage the incident has done to Juneau's attempt to build a capitol.
"It's certainly a speed bump," Botelho said. "That was why I called this meeting to get this particular matter behind us."
Botelho said he is considering postponing his plan to bring the winner of the design competition, Thom Mayne, to Juneau next week.
"We need to take stock of the situation," Botelho said.
The mayor, who wants to dedicate the new capitol in January of 2009 to celebrate Alaska's 50th anniversary of statehood, said he now doesn't know if the project will happen.
Assembly member Merrill Sanford, a member of Juneau's Capitol Planning Commission, remains optimistic.
"I don't think this is a setback," Sanford said. "We are at a point where we will need a lot of money for the project. The state has to decide whether they want to support it or not."
Juneau estimates constructing a new capitol will cost $100 million. But many say the actual price tag might be much more.
Botelho has proposed paying for the project by issuing revenue bonds. The state will rent the building for $6.5 million a year. Juneau will pay for the bonds with the rent.
It is unknown whether the Alaska Legislature will approve the proposal.
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.