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Group calls for session move costs

Lawsuit filed against governor to push for study of expenses

Posted: Wednesday, June 05, 2002

The nonprofit citizens' group trying to move legislative sessions out of Juneau wants a commission to study the costs now, not later.

Alaskans for Efficient Government has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tony Knowles for what they say is his failure to appoint the so-called FRANK Commission.

That commission, according to a successful 1994 ballot initiative, must be created to study the bondable costs of moving the Legislature or the capital. Under current law, voters would have to approve the costs separately in a second election.

But the pending ballot initiative sponsored by Alaskans for Efficient Government would repeal that requirement. Opponents of the legislative move say that's an attempt to get voters to approve the initiative blindly.

But in a complaint filed in Anchorage Superior Court, the group asserts that it wants to get the costs of the move out in the open before the election, rather than after.

"The appointment of a neutral commission to determine costs as required by law is particularly important because, from past experience over the years, it has been established that opponents of any effort to move the capital out of Juneau will inflate the estimated costs in a manner totally divorced from reality for the sole purpose of misleading Alaskan voters and defeating any capital move," says the complaint written by Anchorage attorney Ken Jacobus.

Jacobus says that the FRANK Commission - an acronym for Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge - should have been appointed by Knowles as soon as the ballot initiative was certified in February.

The lawsuit seeks to compel Knowles to name nine members to the commission and suggests that the Legislature could confirm those appointments at a special session already scheduled for June 24.

Jacobus calls for an injunction ensuring that the report of the FRANK Commission "may be disseminated to the voters of Alaska in order that they may make informed and objective decisions."

The Attorney General's Office will raise procedural and substantive issues against the lawsuit, and won't seek a quick review by the court, said Sarah Felix, an attorney for the state.

Procedurally, Alaskans for Efficient Government should have raised the issue sooner, Felix said. Substantively, the lawsuit is "ridiculous" because it suggests that the state should set up a commission, spend money and issue a report for a ballot initiative that could fail in the election, she said.

"Should the FRANK Commission just be a standing commission? That's what they seem to think," Felix said. "That legislative move initiative isn't the law. ... It's like a bill pending in the Legislature that hasn't been enacted."

Also, she said the FRANK Commission specifically calls for a two-stage process, with one vote on whether to move sessions or the capital, and another on paying for a move, if the first measure passes.

"That's what they say now," Jacobus responded. "I don't see anything in the written material back at the time that there was supposed to be two votes."

Win Gruening, chairman of Juneau's Alaska Committee, said the lawsuit isn't sincere but rather is an attempt to nullify the issue of cost.

"They're suing the governor to reinstate something they're trying to repeal," observed Gruening, who heads up efforts to secure Juneau's status as capital city. "They know it's absolutely impossible to form a commission and get a bond issue on the ballot in November."

Jacobus noted that Alaskans for Efficient Government wrote Knowles on Feb. 26 asking for appointment of the commission, which would have allowed plenty of time, he said. But even now, there's time to do it if the governor acted promptly, he said.

Meanwhile, Alaskans for Efficient Government has appealed a Superior Court decision on the ballot language.

The group objected to the drafting by Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, who included a sentence noting that the initiative would repeal the existing law that "the voters must know" the costs of the move before it can go into effect. Pro-move officials said that's intended to swing votes against the initiative. Ulmer said it's a factual statement about what the initiative would do.

The issue now heads to the Supreme Court. Felix said the state will ask for an expedited decision so that ballots can be printed on schedule.

A recent poll by Dittman Research Corp. of Anchorage showed 54 percent of Alaskans favoring the legislative-move initiative, although the sentence regarding cost was not read to respondents. Juneau municipal and Alaska Committee officials expressed hope that they would be able to turn the tide with information on costs.

Mark Chryson, one of the initiative sponsors, described the survey as a "push poll," a pejorative term meant to indicate that pollsters were trying to get a specific response. Chryson alleges that he participated in the survey and was asked repeatedly something along the lines of "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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