Capital grab then and now

Effort to keep costs of move from public could scuttle latest initiative

Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2002

For the sixth time since statehood, voters will go to the polls in November to decide whether Juneau should remain the seat of state government.

Although this manifestation of the move effort would send only legislative sessions away from Juneau, opponents of the measure say the rest of state government soon would follow.

Ballot Measure 2 also would repeal the FRANK Initiative - a law passed by ballot initiative in 1994 requiring that voters know and approve the costs of moving the capital or Legislature.

FRANK stands for Fiscally Responsible Alaskans Needing Knowledge.

The Alaska Committee, the group fighting Ballot Measure 2, says the attempt to repeal the FRANK Initiative is a major sticking point with voters, considering the growing fiscal gap, which threatens to deplete the state's budget reserve by 2004.

Ballot Measure 2 would move the Legislature to Anchorage until facilities are available in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Supporters, such as the Alaskan Independence Party and the advocacy group Alaskans for Efficient Government, say the Legislature should reside near the state's population center in the Railbelt, so citizens have better access to elected officials.

"It can all be summed up in one word: access," said AIP chairman Mark Chryson.

For more Juneau Empire coverage of the November 5 general election, please visit the Juneau Empire Elections Guide.

Despite discounted constituent airfares, contact through e-mail and televised coverage of legislative sessions, Chryson said, it still is difficult to reach lawmakers.

Opponents contend that moving the Legislature would cripple the economies of Juneau and Southeast - a region that already has been hit hard by declining timber and fishing industries in the past decade.

The Juneau-based consulting firm the McDowell Group released a study in August showing that a legislative move would result in an immediate loss of 380 jobs in Juneau. The indirect impacts of a full capital move would be a loss of more than 5,000 jobs, $175 million in annual payroll and more than 8,000 residents, according to the study. A drop in population also would cause a decrease in ferry and air service throughout Southeast.

Move backers have called such statistics scare tactics, and have said that other government jobs would not depart from the capital.

Advocates and opponents expect the initiative to reappear in some form if Alaskans vote no on Election Day. At least one capital-move initiative has appeared on the ballot each decade since statehood.

In 1900, Congress moved the territorial Legislature to Juneau from Sitka, declaring the city its capital in 1912.

The following year, the Legislature debated moving the capital again while deciding whether to ask Congress for $500,000 for a new building to house the territorial government.

The Alaska Daily Empire of Juneau reported one lawmaker as saying: "The idea of asking for this sum is preposterous, and the thought of spending so much in a place like Juneau is still more outrageous. If we must have a new capital building, let us build it in the central part of the territory."

"Why you fellows down there seem to think you are the Territory and entitled to everything. I ask you, what are we to get? Fairbanks has never got anything. You want to centralize everything down around this little wart of a place that isn't even in the Territory," another legislator said.

Early calls for moving the capital came in 1915 with a resolution asking Congress to study the proposed construction of a building in Juneau.

Referendums and other measures for moving the capital or rotating it between communities continued until the state began construction of the territorial capitol building in 1929.

Talk of moving the capital did not resurface again until the 1940s. Throughout the next two decades move measures came and went. Attempts to relocate state government to Palmer were defeated in 1947 and 1956.

The first ballot measure was presented to voters in 1960 - one year after statehood - to move the capital to the Railbelt. Voters rejected that measure and a similar one in 1962.

Fueled by pro-move editorials in the Anchorage Daily Times, the real battle for the capital began in 1974, when voters approved a measure 46,659 to 35,683 to move the capital to one of three locations near Anchorage or Fairbanks. Two years later voters chose Willow, a rural area north of Anchorage.

In 1977 Gov. Jay Hammond appointed a nine-member Capital Site Planning Commission, charged with outlining the planning and cost of developing the new capital city. In the late '70s the state released a publication called "Our New Capital City" detailing the commission's studies.

The move was supposed to occur between 1982 and 1994, but the project was abandoned when voters rejected paying for the venture.

In 1978 Alaskans approved a one-time initiative creating the FRANK Commission, which required that voters know and approve the cost of a capital move. In 1982 voters rejected by 77 percent the estimated $2.8 billion cost of building the new capital.

The most recent effort to move the capital surfaced in 1994 under the campaign to re-elect Wasilla House member Rep. Pat Carney.

Carney, who campaigned on the issue, received about $40,000 from the city of Wasilla to hire petitioners to collect the necessary signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

After the petition was certified, backers collected $225,000 - mainly from the city of Wasilla and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough - and formed the Move It Committee.

"You can do that pretty easily by going to malls and going to the state fair," said Jamie Parsons, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce and an Alaska Committee member.

While campaigning against the move door-to-door in 1982 and 1994, Parsons got a taste of how strongly some residents up north felt about the issue.

"I'll never forget the rude comments that got thrown back at me," Parsons said. "It just leaves an impression of how rabid people were to move it."

In 1994 the initiative failed and Carney lost his re-election bid against Republican Rep. Vic Kohring.

At that time Carney said the capital move issue never would go away, despite talk of televising legislative sessions and making other accessibility improvements to the capital.

Past attempts at capital moves

Aug. 9, 1960

A ballot measure to move the capital to within the Cook Inlet Railbelt is defeated.

Nov. 6, 1962

A ballot measure to move the capital not within 30 miles of Anchorage is defeated.

Aug. 27, 1974

A ballot measure to move the capital to one of three locations determined by a committee is passed.

Nov. 2, 1976

Voters choose Willow as the site of the new capital.

Nov. 7, 1978

A ballot measure that would require all bondable costs of a capital move be approved by a vote of the people is approved.

Nov. 7, 1978

Voters reject $966 million in bonds to pay for moving the capital to Willow.

Nov. 2, 1982

A ballot measure to fund a capital in Willow is defeated.

Nov. 8, 1994

A ballot measure to move the capital to Wasilla is defeated.

Nov. 8, 1994

A ballot measure requiring that voters must know and approve all costs before moving the capital or Legislature is passed.

Carney said the idea of having C-SPAN-like coverage of the Legislature is a good idea but probably would cost too much.

Televised coverage of the Legislature by KTOO-FM and TV began the following year under the name "Gavel to Gavel."

Bill Legere, general manager for KTOO, said the 2002 budget for "Gavel to Gavel" was $557,000. The bill is paid through funds from KTOO, the city of Juneau and private-sector sponsors. Legere said Alaska was one of the first states to offer live coverage of its Legislature.

After the 1994 campaign, Parsons said, the Alaska Committee realized that the issue was never going to go away completely and that Juneau needs to continue to improve accessibility.

"People get the perception that Juneau does not want to be connected, and that hurt us," Parsons said.

He said the Alaska Committee unanimously supports building a road to Juneau and improving ferry service in the region to accommodate constituents.

"I think we've become more sensitive to the fact that it's a privilege being the capital and that with being a capital comes some commitment," Parsons said.

Win Gruening, chairman of the Alaska Committee, said the improvements have made it more difficult for pro-move advocates to muster up the rationale for moving the Legislature.

"We've done a lot in the last eight years, and it's not as easy to make the argument for moving it," Gruening said.

Parsons added that the Legislature could make some improvements too by shortening legislative session to between 75 and 90 days.

A constitutional amendment declaring Juneau the capital would prevent any future legislative move attempts. Passage of the amendment would require a two-thirds majority vote in the state Senate and the House, and voters would have to approve the measure in a statewide election.

Another option would be to tighten signature-gathering requirements in the initiative process.

In the 2002 legislative session, Rep. Bill Williams of Saxman filed a bill that would have required signatures from 30 of the 40 districts in the state. The bill, however, died in committee.

If passed, it would have prevented initiative sponsors from collecting a large majority of the signatures from a limited area such as Anchorage or the Mat-Su, but some argue that it would weaken the initiative process.

"Those two communities can get any initiative they want on the ballot easily," Williams said.

Parsons said a constitutional amendment or changes to the initiative process are possible solutions to future move initiatives but noted that Juneau has to continue to improve the capital if it wants to remain the capital.

"(Changes to the initiative process) would lessen the threat significantly, but it wouldn't eliminate it," Parsons said. "It will always be there, and that is why it behooves us to continue making improvements."

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