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Petition to move session approved, vote drive begins

Property tax limits, same-day voter registration applications also approved for signature efforts

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001

The state has approved an initiative petition application aimed at moving legislative sessions from Juneau to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The lieutenant governor also certified two other applications: One would allow same-day voter registration and another would allow municipalities to limit property taxes. Proponents of the measures have until Jan. 14 to collect 28,783 signatures to get the questions on the 2002 general election ballot.

A spokesman for the group behind the proposal to move legislative sessions said it should be easy to put the question on the ballot.

"The reception we've had so far has been overwhelming," said Uwe Kalenka, spokesman for Alaskans for Efficient Government. "It's high time the Legislature will be made accessible to the vast majority of the people."

Juneau's Alaska Committee is laying out a strategy to defeat the measure. The anti-move group, which has fought similar efforts, has discussed mailing a brochure to voters touting its efforts to make sessions more accessible to Alaskans, said Chairman Win Gruening.

The committee last May helped put live video of the Legislature on the Internet, and hopes by next session to offer live audio recordings of all committee hearings on the Web. The group has asked the assembly for $75,000 in one-time costs to fund the next phase, Gruening said. The Alaska Committee also wants to inform voters of the cost of moving not only the Legislature, but the capital.

"We should be looking at the cost of moving the entire capital because I don't see how the Legislature can continue to meet in a place different than the capital," Gruening said.

Current law requires the state to get voter approval before it spends money to move the capital or Legislature. However, the initiative would delete the reference to the Legislature, meaning the state could fund a session move without voter approval. Kalenka, the initiative's spokesman, defended that provision, saying opponents would inflate the cost.

"We are not interested in those scare tactics," Kalenka said, suggesting a legislative move would cost nothing.

Under the measure, sessions would move to Anchorage if the Mat-Su did not have a suitable facility. However, sessions would move from Anchorage to the Mat-Su, if that community provided a hall. Initiative sponsor Mark Chryson has said lawmakers probably could meet in a vacant Wal-Mart or use space at a mall - both in Wasilla. Although Anchorage also does not have a legislative hall, Kalenka said lawmakers could improvise.

"They can go rent a facility big enough, a hotel or in the (Anchorage) Egan Center until a facility gets available in the Mat-Su valley. I'm sure there are facilities presently that can be used," Kalenka said.

Kalenka sponsored a separate initiative petition application also recently approved by the lieutenant governor. The measure would allow local governments to limit property assessments and taxes. Kalenka was behind a tax cap initiative defeated by voters last November. In contrast to the tax cap, which would have limited property taxes to 1 percent of assessed value, the new measure wouldn't require municipalities to do anything.

Another initiative petition application approved Friday by the lieutenant governor would allow residents to register to vote on the same day of an election. Current law says voters may register no later than 30 days before an election, according to the state Division of Elections.

Kathy Dye may be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.



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