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My turn: Plan B for a new capitol in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, May 05, 2005

A new capitol building in Juneau remains a worthwhile project. Shelving the project after its problematic start, however, is a wise move that will give city leaders a chance to revise our collective game plan. Knowledge gained from our recent mistakes may even help strengthen our next proposal.

The most recent efforts were, for example, marred by space age designs from Outside firms, a lack of statewide support, and an apparent lack of transparency in funding and planning. Some of these issues we can address in our next proposal - a proposal I'll call Plan B.

To be successful, Plan B will have to tap into the enlightened self-interest of a broad range of groups and individuals across the state. We can't expect statewide support for the project unless the economic impacts are shared across the state. So the first step in Plan B will be to retain an Alaska design team. This is symbolic, but it also provides tangible benefits. Right away we'd have the architectural and engineering community in Alaska behind the project. We could also appeal to the majority of practical Alaskans who want a useful facility (not a flimsy work of art that wins the architect an award but leaves us with a maintenance nightmare).

In Plan B, the building itself will include materials (granite, timbers, art, and metals) from across the state of Alaska. More importantly, the labor and construction contracts in Plan B will go to Alaskans from all across the state (to the extent legally possible). Plan B will entail the extensive use of contractors and firms from Anchorage, Mat-Su, Fairbanks, and Southeast. By tapping the self-interest of their constituents, we can then make a stronger case to the legislature.

In Plan B, our lobbyists and promoters will spend a year traveling the state meeting with contractors associations, labor unions, material suppliers, and transportation firms to tout the statewide economic stimulus of a new capitol in Juneau.

In Plan B, the city will solicit Alaska banks and brokers to handle the underwriting and sale of our bonds to finance the project. Then the banking and financial sector can get behind the project. In addition, a substantial percentage of the bonds should be reserved for individual and institutional investors in Alaska to further expand the sphere of shared self-interest.

In Plan B, the city of Juneau further sweetens the deal by paying for a full quarter of construction costs ($25 million) through sales tax, the projected surplus from property taxes, or by auctioning off some of the extensive CBJ real estate holdings (which can be viewed at the assessors database by entering CBJ as the owners' name). In Plan B, we make the state a financial offer it cannot refuse.

In Plan B, Juneau may even have to throw in improved capital access - whether it involves free constituent ferry passes or a road - to get our project off the ground. In Plan B, we pay up for the best lobbyists with the closest connections to the party and people in power. In Plan B, we consider working with our elected representatives to link the new capitol to a package deal where Mat-Su, Anchorage, and Fairbanks also receive large-scale construction projects.

In Plan B, we ask the legislators, governor and staff what they want in a capitol. In Plan B, we design a state-of-the-art facility to the needs of those in power, complete with breathtaking views and all the amenities. In Plan B, the process of planning and funding is conducted in broad daylight, open to all. In Plan B, we are prepared to beat any offer of any other community.

Finally, in Plan B we get a beautiful new capitol that benefits all Alaskans.

• Juneau resident Mike Boyer is an assistant professor of law sciences at the University of Alaska Southeast.



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