Alaska editorial: Road surest way to defeat capital move permanently

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002

This editorial appeared in today's Homer News:

Along with some familiar names on the November general election ballot will be a familiar question - should the Legislature be relocated to Southcentral?

Alaska voters have seen this initiative appear, in one form or another, five times since statehood. Of the five times it has come to a vote, it has been rejected, essentially, every time. The one time a full-blown capital move was approved - in 1974 - it was effectively killed four years later when voters overwhelmingly refused to approve the nearly $1 billion cost of the relocation.

In addition to the capital move ballot initiatives, the issue has been raised even more regularly on the floor of the Legislature. Why it continues to surface against such consistent and unqualified rejection is a mystery, especially considering the far more pressing issues facing the Legislature in recent years.

Perhaps a ballot measure decreeing "no more capital move initiatives" would be more appropriate. But in the absence of one, yet another "no" vote is in order for this question - and for most of the same reasons as in the past.

Relocating the Legislature would be a double-edged sword, robbing taxpayers to fund the project while driving an economic stake into the heart of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

Besides, a state that has yet to find a way to bridge a fiscal gap that is nearing crisis proportions has no business even considering spending the kind of money it would take to relocate the capital. What kind of money that would be, specifically, is a mystery, since this particular incarnation of the initiative grants a blank check to legislators, making it that much more unpalatable.

Supporters of the measure tout the capital's inaccessibility as a prime reason for moving it. But in these days of phones, faxes, public opinion messages, e-mail and teleconferencing, being in touch with legislators has never been more convenient.

Foolish as it is that this question keeps appearing, it is equally foolish that money continues to get spent on each anti-capital move campaign. Juneau taxpayers, who have the most to lose from a capital move, kicked in $350,000 of the more than $1 million it has taken to fight the current campaign to keep the Legislature in town.

Unfortunately, the best route to never having to fight this battle or spend this money again - a road into town - does not enjoy the same support in Juneau that retaining the capital does.

A road along Lynn Canal to Haines or Skagway, built largely with federal funds, would connect Juneau to the road system. Road opponents, however, fearing the influx of car traffic and the effect it might have on their beautiful city, continue to tout ferry service as the answer to accessibility concerns.

But it's the 21st century, after all. No ferry, no matter how fast, will ever take the place of a road, the benefits of which would far outweigh whatever negatives may drive into town on one.

Build it, and they will come - for better or worse. But the capital will likely never go.

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