My Turn

Beware subtle move of capital, university

Posted: Friday, September 08, 2000

I suppose I should quickly run like a lemming to worship tourism in Juneau when an Anchorage Times editorial said the capital should be moved because Juneauites don't like tourism. The Times (and many legislators) will advocate the capital move no matter the reason. Saturn has six moons rather than five, the ozone hole above the North Pole gets larger every year. Whatever.

We also get the almost daily scolding like little children from the person who regularly submits a "Word of Mouth" admonishing us to embrace tourism. If downtown Anchorage got 30,000 tourists dumped on it daily (proportionate to Anchorage's size) they would be up in arms, too..fter the 2000 census and some redistricting (or perhaps later) they'll have the votes outright up North to do the move anyway. Moving the main campus of the University of Alaska from Fairbanks to Anchorage will take a bit longer.

I have to give the movers credit though. They finally learned not to fight the capital move openly. Best not to telegraph your punches. Restrict the "right" infrastructure repairs leaning on the phony fiscal gap and the rest will fall into line. You really don't have to be in the middle of a good Tom Clancy novel to figure this one out.

The prime example of that strategy is the disgusting shape of the 25-year-old Juneau State Office Building (SOB); hardly an old commercial building. Just stand on the dock and look up. It's that ugly black concrete block on the hill. In the last 10 years it has been let to deteriorate to a ridiculous level in the inside also. This has been purposeful.

The biggest argument against the capital move was always the reproduction cost. They'll never pay to move the people. Why not just rebuild it in Anchorage when the deterioration is at the point of no return. Any real fuss made over the deplorable conditions in the SOB will just accelerate the process. The completely phony "fiscal gap" (that's another article) is then used to protest that, "We just can't afford repairs."

There did seem to be enough money to buy a nice building in the core of Anchorage with space near it; and pay the moving and build-out cost there over time. Oh yes, something about savings in the long run. Even named it for the arch Capital Mover of all time Robert Atwood. Cute, huh? And then there's that nice big oil company building nearby that might come empty for industry cost savings. That could easily house those extra state employees. Dumb luck? Hardly.

But I think Fairbanks should take heed. The UAA campus in Anchorage is really nice and modern. However, the Fairbanks campus is really run down and sorely in need of repairs. Soon it will be: "Why not move the University from Fairbanks? Cheaper to recreate it and make it bigger in Anchorage than repair Fairbanks buildings. So much more in the center of it all, don't you think?"

The same arguments that work for the capital move from Juneau also work equally well for moving the University from Fairbanks. If you haven't figured it out yet, Fairbanks, you're next.

Outsourcing will further accelerate the strategy.

Outsourcing requires concentration to be truly cost effective. Many of the telecom jobs in the recent proposal will simply eventually move to Anchorage. No matter what job-preserving provisions are in the proposal. That, too, will soon enough be done away with in one form or another.

Oh, soon enough I suppose we'll hear from some politicians who will admonish us that we shouldn't try to turn parts of the state against each other. Right, that would really be original. I guess I won't mention trashing rural school kids so urban schools can get more money. Unfortunately, here too, money was not the real issue (that thoroughly phony fiscal gap again).

But then there's all those high-paid tourism jobs that are going to replace the state jobs and pay for community needs, police and fire, bonds for the high school, etc. For a brief moment I was worried.

Anselm Staack, a CPA and an attorney, came to Alaska in 1974.



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