Legislature tallying session costs

Head legislative staffer expects special session's cost in Anchorage to exceed Juneau price tag

Posted: Sunday, August 02, 2009

Legislative officials say they expect a one-day special session of the Alaska Legislature will cost about $112,000 in Anchorage.

That's more than it would cost in Juneau, but it isn't clear yet by how much, legislative administrators said.

The Legislature intends to override former Gov. Sarah Palin's veto of $28.6 million in energy stimulus money for Alaska and confirm Craig Campbell, Palin's recent designee as lieutenant governor. A different designee was already confirmed, though Palin changed her mind.

The Aug. 10 special session is expected to be a single day. It's only the second time in state history for a special session to be held outside Juneau. The first - also a one-day session in Anchorage - was in 2007, after the Legislature failed to extend the state's senior benefits program.

The additional cost of holding the session outside Juneau is just one reason why Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, is unhappy the Legislature will be meeting in Anchorage instead of the capital.

"I know that it is a heck of a lot less expensive to have it here in Juneau," he said.

Egan opposes holding the session in Anchorage where, incidentally, the Legislature will be meeting in the city's Egan Civic & Convention Center - named after his father, former Gov. Bill Egan.

"Which is kind of weird for me," the senator acknowledged.

Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, estimates the state will save $50,000 in legislators' travel expenses by holding the session in Anchorage. At a Juneau session, 57 legislators have to fly; in Anchorage only 25 have to, she said.

However, it also incurs extra costs for flying up Juneau-based staff, securing equipment and renting space, among other things, that Varni expects will outstrip the legislators' travel savings."Because it is in Anchorage I do have to send some technical people up there, and they'll be spending more than one day to get things set up," she said.

Varni described it as a "skeleton crew," requiring some computer experts from the Information Services Department, a few people from Legislative Legal Services, and others. Staff from the Anchorage Legislative Information Office also will help, she said.

Other Juneau staff will provide services to the session from Juneau, she said.

Legislative staff have tried to cut costs wherever possible, Varni said. Two years ago, then-Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich offered use of the Egan Center for free, but the city was not able to do that this year, she said.

"They're in a budget crunch and they're not going to comp it this time," Varni said.

One potentially spendy item, a high-capacity photocopier, has been donated, but other costs such as electronic voting equipment and audio-visual equipment, were not.

An elaborate voting system was not rented and probably won't be needed for the limited agenda, she said. The two issues on the agenda are relatively simple, legislators said.

Despite calls to expand the session, it would be difficult to do more, said Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage.

"Let's hope that's all it is, because we are poorly equipped to do much more without the entire legislative infrastructure that exists in Juneau," he said.

"If we are going to do more than that it should be in Juneau," Egan said. "Of course, it should be in Juneau anyway."

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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