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State changes position on subport building

Department of Administration supported project in 2009, now says it is neutral

Posted: Sunday, May 02, 2010

Parnell administration officials are backing away from their support for a new state office building on Juneau's subport property, claiming they never supported it in the first place.

A bill which would have allowed the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to finance and construct a multi-story building on the waterfront subport property died in the most recent legislative session.

House Bill 161, sponsored by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau and other members of the delegation was held for the last year in the Senate Finance Committee without a hearing.

Department of Administration Commissioner Annette Kreitzer said her department never supported the bill.

"The Administration's position on HB 161 has consistently been neutral," Kreitzer said."It was a policy call for theLegislature."

Last year, under Gov. Sarah Palin, the Department of Administration advocated the subport project, with Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brooks testifying in support of it several times.

He also told the Empire after the 2009 session that the department's focus has been on "trying to get this bill passed."

Kreitzer declined to answer follow-up questions about why the department has changed its position.

The subport office building would have housed employees now located in an older building on Eighth Street known as the "Plywood Palace," as well as others from elsewhere in Juneau.

Jeff Jessee, executive director of the Mental Health Trust Authority, said he was surprised to hear claims that that the Department of Administration did not support the bill.

"It was the Department of Administration's idea," he said. "They came to us."

Muñoz and Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said they had help from the administration with advancing the subport bill through the House.

"They were very proactive, as was I, ... and had great success in getting it passed 38-1," Muñoz said, referring to the 2009 legislative session.

Juneau was without representation in the Senate for most of that session, and House Bill 161 failed to get a hearing.

This year, new Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, was unable to win passage of the bill, or even get a hearing from Sen. Bert Stedman's Senate Finance Committee, where he holds a seat.

Active support from the Administration during the 2010 session might have helped, Egan said.

"I'm not too enthused about them not stepping up and helping with this," he said.

Parnell spokesperson Sharon Leighow confirmed that the governor did not actively support the subport bill.

"Governor Parnell has never taken a position on the subport building," she said.

She declined to say whether Parnell had anything to do with the Department of Administration's withdrawal of support.

Active opposition to the subport bill came from the owners of the Plywood Palace, Juneau 1 LLC, which hired lobbyist Kevin Jardell to fight it. He used the administration's withdrawal of support to lobby against the project.

"For all the attacks on Sen. Stedman, it's at least somewhat important that the State of Alaska seemed to be in agreement with him," he said.

While the Legislature failed to pass House Bill 161, it did budget $5 million to begin work on locating new office space in Juneau. That appropriation still needs Parnell's signature, and it is not clear what impact the administration's lack of support for the subport development may have on that decision.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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