Bill would allow cities to compete for capitol

Longtime capital-move advocate says Alaskans should have 'building that they can take pride in'

Posted: Sunday, April 24, 2005

JUNEAU - The 74-year-old capitol in Juneau is inadequate, unfriendly and unsafe, according to a state lawmaker who has sponsored a bill to allow communities to compete to build a new one.

The bill by Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, would allow cities or boroughs of more than 30,000 residents to submit proposals to the Alaska Legislative Counsel, which would decide the winner.

Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Borough are the only areas of the state with 30,000 residents or more.

Rokeberg, an advocate for moving the Capitol, told the House State Affairs Committee Saturday that the current capitol, built in 1931, has inadequate fire exits, no sprinkler system, poor seating and access for the public and small offices for lawmakers.

"So, clearly, I believe Alaskans should have a building that they can take pride in," Rokeberg said.

Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, said he does not support moving the capitol because of the effect it would have on Juneau's economy.

"But wherever we sit has got to be safe," he said.

The committee meeting was held less than a week after Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho put the brakes on his plan to build a new capitol in Juneau and lease it to the Legislature to pay the construction costs. He said he does not expect a commitment from the Legislature this year to help pay for the building.

Botelho said he plans to revisit the new capitol issue this summer after the city has completed its annual budget. He said the city might consider paying to build the new capitol itself.

Rokeberg said it would cost the state about $6.5 million a year to build a new capitol.

"It is a deal breaking hurdle which cannot be jumped over," he said.

Under Rokeberg's bill the Legislative Council, made up of members of the state House and Senate, would develop specifications such as office size and other amenities for the new capitol by December 2005. The Legislative Council would review the proposals and pick a winner by June 2006. The new capitol would then be built and ready for occupation by June 2008.

The committee also discussed a bill by Reps. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, and Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, which would require a vote of the public before the Legislature spends money building a new capitol in Juneau.

Both bills are expected to be revisited this week in the House State Affairs Committee, but with just over two weeks left in the legislative session it is unlikely either proposal will be approved this year.

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