Panel focuses on legislative-move costs

Alaska Committee mounts campaign to defeat initiative that would move Alaska Legislature to Mat-Su

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2002

The Alaska Committee is preparing to mount a vigorous campaign to defeat the legislative-move ballot initiative, committee chairman Win Gruening told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

"The Alaska Committee feels very strongly that this initiative is nothing more than a cover for a full capital move, and it will eventually cost all Alaskans tremendous amounts of money with really no benefit," Gruening said. "This alone should be enough reason to vote 'no' on the initiative."

The Alaska Committee spearheaded a successful effort to block a capital move to Wasilla in 1994.

The latest initiative will require two "costly and cumbersome moves," first to Anchorage and then to the Mat-Su, Gruening said. The initiative speaks of moving the Legislature to the Mat-Su area, if possible, or to Anchorage first if facilities in the Mat-Su area aren't available.

Alaskans would have to pay the costs of leasehold improvements and equipping and furnishing the buildings, Gruening said. He said the state would be saddled with the cost of flying state officials back and forth during the session.

"This will happen when state-owned buildings in Juneau remain vacant," he said. "How can an administration and a Legislature that is separated by over 600 miles be more efficient?"

For several months, the Alaska Committee has been conducting research, devising strategies and assembling key players to head up the effort, Gruening said. A nine-member committee will guide the campaign, and the Alaska Committee will act in a larger oversight role, he said.

The committee has chosen Christopher Clark, a producer for KTOO-TV's "Alaska Week" and head of the Alaska Committee's Anchorage office in 1994, as its campaign manager.

Clark said an attempt to move the legislative session poses different challenges than a capital-move initiative, but added that the intent is ultimately the same.

"It's different in that it's just moving the Legislature, but if you move the head, you move the rest of the body," he said.

"There is a certain complacency that needs to be disrupted. If you're ever feeling complacent, just think back to what happened in '74," Clark said, referring to the capital move initiative passed by voters nearly 30 years ago.

That effort was blocked by a later initiative in 1982 requiring voters to approve the $2.8 billion cost to move the capital.

According to recent polls, public opinion has not changed much in 20 years.

One poll conducted in May by Dittman Research Corp. of Anchorage found that 54 percent of registered voters back the move. The poll, however, did not mention the costs associated with the move.

A more recent study, by the FRANK Committee out of Fairbanks, found that 65 percent of respondents were against the initiative without knowing the cost. Only 27 percent supported the move without knowing the cost.

The FRANK Committee, whose name stands for Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge, was formed in 1977 to inform voters of the cost of a capital move.

The FRANK poll "does point out, I think, that people are influenced by the realization that something is being taken away from them, and that their right to know and vote on the cost is critical," Gruening said.

In addition to government jobs that would be lost in Juneau, Gruening said, the move would have a negative impact throughout the region, affecting ferry service and retail sales.

He said the Alaska Committee has commissioned the McDowell Group, a Juneau research firm, to study the impacts on Southeast of a legislative move. The study should be completed within the next two weeks, he said.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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