Poll: Voters still oppose moving the Legislature

Posted: Friday, August 16, 2002

Alaskans still want to know the price before they agree to pay for legislative sessions to move away from Juneau.

In answer to an opinion poll last week, frequent voters gave a resounding "No" to the legislative move, and a "Yes" to being told the costs before they are asked to vote on it again. Almost as many hadn't read, heard or seen any coverage of the issue.

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"It tells me that we have more work to do," said Christopher Clark, campaign director for the Alaska Committee, a Juneau group that works to keep the capital here. "The good news is we're seeing awareness about this increase, but obviously a lot more must be done."

The FRANK Committee commissioned the opinion poll Aug. 7 to 11 as a follow-up to a similar poll it conducted in May. Both were conducted by Independent Opinion Research & Communications Inc. of Wilmington, N.C.

The basic results were consistent - almost two-thirds of the respondents would have voted against Alaska ballot measure 2, which would move the legislative session to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or to Anchorage.

This time the poll asked why. Of those turning down the legislative move, more than a third said they need to know the cost. Another 17 percent were sure it would be expensive regardless of the estimates.

Cost has been one of the more controversial elements of the legislative-move initiative, partly because a price tag hasn't been revealed. The legislative-move initiative repeals a 1994 ballot initiative requiring voters to be informed of the bondable cost of a legislative or capital move and given a chance to vote on whether they're willing to pay the price.

"The proper steps should be voters approve of a move, then a commission is set, it then comes up with an estimate, then it takes that estimate back to the voters. Of course this initiative dashes all that," Clark said. "Voters when they find out are outraged."

The Fairbanks-based FRANK Committee, whose name stands for Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge, was formed in 1977 to ensure that the public would know and vote on the costs of a capital or legislative move before it became effective.

More than half of those polled, 60 percent, said they had not heard, read or seen anything on the legislative move initiative. Another 12 percent couldn't remember. The more informed voters seemed most likely to oppose the legislative move.

The Alaska Committee has been running six radio ads statewide since July 16. "We were doing a general information or awareness campaign. We're trying to make people aware that this is out there," Clark said.

Mark Chryson, who helped Alaskans for Efficient Government gather signatures for the legislative move petition, has heard the radio ads and didn't like them.

"What's being told is that moving the Legislature is going to be a bad thing," Chryson said. "The answers from the people are two words. The first one is bull. The other one you can't print."

As a resident of the Mat-Su borough, Chryson doesn't believe the FRANK poll numbers.

"They didn't take the polls up here," said Chryson, who is chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party. From his interactions with people, he believes momentum is continuing to build for the legislative move.

"If anything, the people are rebelling against the barrage of their advertising. They're sick of it," Chryson said. "Every time the (anti-move) ad is run there's more people who are solidifying in the vote against."

The statewide poll did find the Anchorage and Mat-Su area had the largest percentage of voters supporting the legislative move, 44 percent. But even there, on the home turf of the move campaign, 50 percent of the poll respondents were prepared to vote against the initiative.

Of the third who did support moving the Legislature, 22 percent felt it would be worth the cost, or even cost less in the long run. Most felt it would provide easier access to the government for themselves, other people and legislators.

"I don't want it in my backyard, but I'd rather have it in my backyard than some place I can't get to," Chryson said. "If there was a road to Juneau I don't think we'd be having this conversation, but there's no road."

The FRANK poll also asked respondents to rate the importance of several other issues in Alaska. The state budget remains the issue poll respondents most want the Legislature to resolve. Almost all of them, 94 percent, ranked it as very or somewhat important. More than 80 percent of the surveyed voters also ranked roads, subsistence and the Alaska gas pipeline as important concerns.

The results of both FRANK polls were contrary to an earlier poll by Dittman Research of Anchorage, which found 54 percent favored moving the legislative sessions. That poll did not mention the requirement to come up with a price tag would be removed by the ballot measure.

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