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Botelho: Build new Capitol; Knapp: Idea could backfire

Posted: Sunday, September 28, 2003

Mayoral candidate Dick Knapp is against building a new Capitol backed by revenue bonds. He says it could backfire and cause Juneau to lose its position as the state capital. His opponent, Bruce Botelho, is willing to take the chance.

Knapp, who has never been elected to public office, is squaring off against Botelho, who first held the mayor's job in the late 1980s.

The winner of the Oct. 7 election will succeed Mayor Sally Smith, who declined to run for a second three-year term.

The new mayor takes office Oct. 27 and will be paid about $30,000 a year.

Knapp would favor a new Capitol building on Telephone Hill only if unlimited funds existed - which is not the case in Juneau. Botelho wants to build a new Capitol using revenue bonds through a lease with the state, he said. If Juneau tried to construct a new Capitol, Knapp said, opponents might suggest a cheaper Capitol be built elsewhere in the state.

Botelho has a plan to enter the city into a long-term lease agreement with the state to fund the cost of a new Capitol using revenue bonds. Lease payments would pay off the bonds.

"Juneau won't be adding to the general obligation bonds this way," Botelho said.

In other words, city taxpayers would not pay for the building through higher taxes. State law would require legislative approval of the lease if it exceeds $1 million annually - which Botelho expects it would. His goal is to ensure enough legislative votes are in place to approve the building - without moving the capital from Juneau - before moving ahead with the plan, he said.

"It is a risk and it's one that one doesn't take lightly," he told the Juneau Empire in an interview on Thursday.

A new Capitol would help cement Juneau as the capital, some observers say, because it would provide a better working environment for legislators and staff every January to May.

"The Capitol is a temple to democracy and fosters the democratic process," Botelho said. "... It shouldn't be a second-hand store. That's not to denigrate the building, but it should be adequate for the job."

Knapp, a 74-year-old retired Coast Guard rear admiral, said he is pro-business. He characterizes himself as someone with the time and energy to run the city.

"Bruce does have a good background, but I believe certain candidates are best for certain times," Knapp told the Juneau Empire on Thursday.

"Juneau is at a critical juncture. The state may have to make another $250,000 cut (to cities), and we need to assume it will include jobs in Juneau."

He once was comptroller of the U.S. Coast Guard, worked as state commissioner of Transportation and Public Facilities, served in Vietnam, and is chairman of the city Docks and Harbor Board. Voters can learn more about him at www.knappformayor.org.

Botelho, who turns 55 on Oct. 6, has been known in political circles for years. The former state attorney general under Gov. Tony Knowles describes himself as "quasi-retired," admitting he doesn't want to practice law now.

Botelho served as mayor from 1988 to 1991, and was a Juneau Assembly member from 1983 to 1986. The Juneau native has served on the Alaska Permanent Fund Board of Trustees, the Alaska Resource Commission, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council and Juneau Human Rights Commission. Voters may contact him at www.brucebotelho.com.

Juneau faces a deficit for the fiscal 2004 year, and the candidates have similar views on how to handle funding shortfalls. Both say they will look for efficiencies and redundancies in the budget before they advocate any tax increase. They declined to cite specific examples of what budget areas they would cut.

Botelho would review how sales tax revenue is allocated, noting that a 3 percent sales tax, out of Juneau's total 5 percent sales tax, is up for voter approval in 2005. One percentage point is subject to voter approval in 2007. The remaining percentage point is permanent.

Botelho also noted that only $42 million of the city's $177 million budget includes core city services, and said he would review that. Knapp would try to open non-taxed public lands to commercial and domestic private-sector development, he said.

They've each attended about three Assembly meetings in the past year.

The candidates want to create an atmosphere for private investment and economic development, they said.

Knapp favors putting the Kensington Gold Mine online, saying it will generate about 350 construction and 220 permanent jobs. The well-paying mining jobs will create more city sales and property tax revenue, he said. Similarly, Knapp favors accelerating the planned National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility at Lena Point to create jobs in the area.

Botelho, former deputy state commissioner of Revenue, described Alaska as a state rich in renewable resources such as fishing and mining. He favors putting the Kensington mine online, but only with minimal surface disturbance and the protection of prime recreational land near Berners Bay.

Building a road to Juneau would help foster an atmosphere for economic development, Knapp said. He cited his plan of "access, accommodation and attitude" to improving Juneau's economy. A road would provide access to Skagway and Whitehorse with a ferry to Haines. Other Southeast communities would then become "interdependent" with Juneau, he said. That would help the overall economy of Southeast while giving other communities a vested interest in keeping the capital in Juneau, he said. A road also could result in increased ferry trips from Bellingham, Wash., to Juneau, boosting the local economy, he said.

"If you want the benefits of being the state capital, you need to accept the responsibility," Knapp said. "Don't try to protect it as a private reserve."

Botelho, who voted for increased ferry access in a 2000 Juneau advisory vote, said a road must be built properly so as not to hurt the environment. In the end, the state - not the city - will decide whether a road is built, he said.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com.



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