The Juneau Assembly's Finance Committee on Wednesday recommended the city spend $20,000 to build regional support for keeping the legislative session in Juneau.
If approved by the Assembly, the funding would come from the Better Capital City fund, Finance Committee Chairwoman Cathy Mu-oz said.
"It's important to try to unify the region in Southeast, to get out to the communities and hear what the concerns are and improve our role as a capital city," she said.
A statewide initiative to move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susistna Borough could land on the 2002 ballot if a citizens' group pushing the measure gathers about 29,000 signatures.
The Alaska Committee is leading efforts to defeat the proposal, and chairman Win Gruening has pointed to a disconnect between Juneau and other Southeast communities as one of the first battles in the fight. He said the Assembly's action is a good way to get the message out.
"I think it's good they're willing to commit money to outreach efforts," he said. "I don't think anything is better than face-to-face meetings."
The money could be used for Assembly member travel to other communities or joint meetings between community leaders, although the exact details haven't been worked out, Assembly member Dale Anderson said. The best way to address the perceived divide in the region is to talk, he added.
"With a lack of communication comes misunderstanding and mistrust. We're trying to strengthen ties and build a rapport with other communities in the region and find out what their issues are," he said.
Loren Gerhard, executive director of the regional development organization Southeast Conference, said he has noted a problem during his travels to other communities in the region. An outreach effort should help, he said.
"What I would hope comes out is an understanding by other parts of the region that Juneau does not speak with one voice. To go a little deeper and understand that we don't necessarily agree on all things," he said.
If the Legislature moves, the entire region will feel the impact, he said.
"It will make it more difficult for anybody in the region to visit the capital if it's gone," Gerhard said. "We'll lose representation in the region if the population drops in Juneau. All of these things don't bode well for the rest of the region."
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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