Rational minds must prevail

Alaska editorial

Posted: Monday, August 19, 2002

This editorial was published Aug. 11 in the Ketchikan Daily News:

Ketchikan - probably other communities in Southeast Alaska too - is just a little tired of being "there" for Juneau when it doesn't seem like Juneau is "here" for us when we need it.

And now Ketchikan is kind of worn down. It's fought for the timber industry, including to retain a pulp mill and sawmill, and lost on both accounts. During that time, Juneau's presence was not only conspicuously absent, but it appeared at times it was on the other side. Ketchikan has fought to preserve a veneer plant; it's struggled to maintain a shipyard; it's riding out the effects of a slow economy. It's tired, but it's still struggling, taking deep breaths and coming back.

In between it all, Ketchikan helped Juneau out and worked against a statewide ballot measure that would have approved moving the capital to Southcentral Alaska. The measure didn't get the support it needed. Ketchikan's efforts were appreciated by a few folks in Juneau, but the anti-timber - anti-industry - drum continued to beat from Juneau; it just was a little less loud, very little.

Now Ballot Measure 2, scheduled for November's ballot, is asking again that the capital be moved. Actually, the measure calls for moving the Legislature, but once the Legislature moves, there won't be much left in Juneau except the title "capital." Many of the state's offices already are in Anchorage; several commissioners have offices there and spend more time in Anchorage than Juneau. It would only be a matter of time before the capitol would follow the Legislature, and not much time at that.

Some Ketchikan residents - just worn out and fed up with Juneau politics - are saying: "To heck with it. Maybe I'll just vote for the move this time." Maybe you've said it yourself in a weary moment. But rational minds must prevail. The effects of moving the capital and/or Legislature from Southeast will have economic implications for Ketchikan and other regional communities outside of Juneau. Those effects also will enhance state financial burdens.

The most disturbing for all Alaskans will be that the Legislature essentially would receive a blank check from the voters to spend as it likes on moving. Costs would be prohibitive considering the state's declining financial situation, and legislators aren't coming out in strong support of the measure. But lobbying by Southcentral communities that could use the economic benefits of the capital would be steady.

Those communities are made up of Alaskans who want their legislators to do for them too. And that's what legislators do - what their constituents ask.

Costs would include temporary housing for the Legislature in Anchorage while the Matanuska-Susitna area builds structures to accommodate it, construction costs, and maintenance costs on existing state buildings in Juneau which would be unoccupied and likely to remain so. Juneau would lose population, and it wouldn't have need for the state's office space.

Additionally, if the Legislature paid for a move it would have to reduce spending in other areas of the state budget, a budget that already is experiencing a deficit. Financial demands on communities would increase as they have in recent years.

More important than moving the Legislature is electing legislators who will guide the state toward a vibrant economy. If people don't have jobs; if people aren't receiving services - safe highways, protection and legal services, assistance in economic development to name the basics - then people should be pursuing public office. And people should be turning out to vote. Nothing happens if the people don't show up. In fact, less and less happens until people get disgusted and decide to act.

Ketchikan, Southeast communities, all of Alaska, as a matter of fact, cannot afford not to vote. Neither can we afford to move the Legislature.



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