House votes 2-1 to hold session here

Representatives say capital has the infrastructure for them to meet

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2007

Members of the Alaska House of Representatives have voted by a better than 2-1 margin to hold October's special legislative session in Juneau, House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, announced Thursday.

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Combined with support from several senators for Juneau, that should result in the special oil tax session being held in the state's capital, Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said.

"I do think the session is going to be in Juneau," Elton said.

That's a change from May, when Gov. Sarah Palin proposed the session be held "someplace on the road system."

A one-day special session was held in Anchorage in June, the first ever outside the capital, raising fears that would be the first step in relocating the capital from Juneau to the Anchorage area.

Members of the House, polled by the leadership, voted 23-9 to hold the session in Juneau. Eight members either abstained from voting or were unreachable.

Many who voted also provided comments about why they thought the session should be in Juneau, generally revolving around the infrastructure already in the capital for such a session.

The call for a session outside Juneau had presented a conundrum for Elton and Kerttula. Both were strong advocates for the review of the Petroleum Profits Tax sought by Palin, but feared a special session outside Juneau would contribute to "capital creep," in which more state functions are moved out of town.

The Juneau delegation set about trying to convince the governor and their fellow legislators the session needed to be held in Juneau. They argued that Juneau was where the staff, offices and communication links already were, and were apparently successful.

Palin last week said she'd leave the decision up to legislators, and they've now apparently decided on Juneau.

"It's gratifying that people focused on what we're going to have to do to carry this off," Kerttula said.

"The vote was in line with what I thought would happen," she said.

The Senate has not yet given an opinion, and Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, did not return calls this week. Elton said he and other senators had talked with her, and he was "comfortable" with her position."

Even a number of representatives from Anchorage voted for Juneau, with some including comments that were provided by Harris.

Rep. Bob Buch, D-Anchorage, voted for Juneau. He said he "likes Anchorage, but the complexity of PPT requires Juneau's infrastructure."

The Southeast delegation was overwhelmingly supportive of Juneau, with only Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, abstaining. And he said he preferred Juneau unless the governor wanted it elsewhere.

Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, was explicit.

"Sessions belong in the capital city," he said.

Even Harris, himself on record advocating a move of the capital, abstained while admitting "Juneau is easierlogistically."

Anchorage representatives were generally split on the issue, with Matanuska-Susitna representatives favoring Anchorage more strongly than did those from Anchorage itself. Fairbanks representatives were generally in favor of Juneau, though Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, supported Anchorage.

Anchorage supporters noted it was more personally accessible for a greater number of Alaskans.

Numerous representatives, including Harris, said they wanted the session wherever the governor wanted it.

"We look forward to working with you and your administration toward conducting a special session that assesses whether the state gets its fair share of oil and gas revenues," Harris wrote in a letter to Palin with the poll results.

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



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