Republicans favored a road out of Juneau while Democrats took a wait-and-see approach at a forum for state House hopefuls held Friday by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
"It's something that we need to look at - not if, but when," said Andrew Engstrom, 38, the Republican challenger for House District 3, which represents residents in downtown and Douglas.
His opponent, six-year incumbent Rep. Beth Kerttula, 48, said it's not as simple as a yes or no answer. Kerttula and Bob Doll, the Democratic challenger for the District 4 House seat, said they want to see the state's environmental review of the project before giving an answer.
House District 4 represents residents of the Mendenhall Valley and points north.
"I want to see if it's a safe route," Kerttula said. "I want to see what we think of it. I want to see what the costs are."
Doll, 68, who faces one-term incumbent Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, said the project would cost hundreds of millions and could divert attention from the state ferry system.
"This forum wanted me to commit myself immediately and, personally, I think that it is a litmus test for the Chamber and I have no doubt that I failed that litmus test," Doll said.
He said the cost does not justify the benefit of the proposed road to Skagway.
Weyhrauch, 51, said he believes construction of the road would help thwart future capital-move attempts by providing better access to the Legislature.
"It does not mean that it has to be to the disintegration of the ferry service nor does it mean that we can't look objectively at the issues through an (environmental impact statement) and pick the best alternative," Weyhrauch said.
Doll said the problems with the ferry system and with the state budget in general stem from Republican mismanagement. He said Republicans have controlled the Legislature for 12 years and haven't fixed Alaska's fiscal gap. He said it shows they're satisfied with the current economy.
"They like it because it gives them an alibi for doing all of the things that you see happening right now - for underfunding education, for dismantling the marine highway system," Doll said. "It gives them an excuse."
Engstrom hammered the Democrats for their opposition to a ballot measure that would change the way signatures are collected for citizen initiatives. The proposal for Ballot Measure 1 would require more signatures from a larger number of districts in the state. Some have argued that it would help prevent efforts to move the capital from Juneau to Anchorage.
"I think you may be looking at the only two people in Juneau that will vote 'no' on Proposition 1," Engstrom said. "I think this is an extremely important issue. This is anti-capital-move legislation."
Kerttula said the proposed amendment to the state Constitution would make it more difficult to get initiatives on the ballot.
"We have to be careful about initiatives," she said, adding that the FRANK initiative, requiring citizens to approve the costs before moving the capital, prevented earlier capital-move attempts. "This is a double-edged sword. The FRANK initiative saved Juneau. Do we really want to make it more difficult to put things on the ballot when we ourselves may need it at some point?"
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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