An Anchorage Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that certification of a ballot initiative to move the legislative session from Juneau to the Mat-Su Borough does not require the appointment of a commission to study the costs prior to the Nov. 5 election.
Alaskans for Efficient Government, the group pushing the initiative to move the session and which brought the lawsuit against the state, argued that a commission to determine the move's costs should have been appointed by Gov. Tony Knowles to avoid two elections - one to approve a session move and another to approve the costs.
Judge Christen Morgan stated in an 11-page ruling that Knowles "correctly observes that an initiative requires nothing and authorizes nothing. It is simply a proposal to require or authorize a move."
A 1994 ballot initiative established the FRANK Commission, which is charged with determining the costs of such a move, and whose members are appointed by the governor. The judge said that under the 1994 measure the cost would be determined in a separate election.
FRANK is an acronym that stands for Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge.
A study of the costs of a session move would include determining the cost of planning, building, furnishing and financing the facilities as well as moving personnel and offices.
Christen said the task of creating a commission to prepare such a report would "require significant expenditures of time and funds."
"Thus, the reality of the length of time involved in completing an analysis ... supports the conclusion that the sponsors of the 1994 initiative intended that the Commission would be appointed only after the voters approved a move initiative," Christen stated.
He noted that appointing the FRANK Commission for every certified initiative would mean that the expenditure of public funds could be "triggered by the actions of only a few people."
Ken Jacobus, attorney for Alaskans for Efficient Government, said the group would appeal Christen's decision to the state Supreme Court, but not in time to have a decision for the November election.
"If the voters vote to move the session, it should move," he said. "People should have the right to accomplish their goal with one election.
"But the game's not over yet - we have to see what the five people on the Supreme Court have to say about it."
Although a court decision would not affect the upcoming initiative, Jacobus said it is important for the Supreme Court to determine what the FRANK initiative means in the event of future attempts to move the capital or legislative session.
Assistant Attorney General Sarah Felix, who represented the state in the case, said Alaskans for Efficient Government has 30 days to file a notice of appeal.
"As far as I'm concerned, the case is done," she said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.