Shorter sessions may squeeze businesses

Proposal to cut 30 days off legislative session means fewer people, less money

Posted: Friday, November 03, 2006

Reining in lengthy legislative sessions is being billed as a way to save the state some money, but it may come at a high cost to some Juneau businesses.

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"It will definitely have a major impact, as you can imagine," said Gerd Krause, general manager of the Baranof Hotel downtown.

Legislators provide a much-needed wintertime boost in business, he said.

"If you have them 30 days less it means 30 days less of everybody who lobbies, or comes to see the Legislature," Krause said.

Loss of a month's worth of legislative business - including members, their staffs, lobbyists and citizens visiting the capital - will have a wide impact on Juneau businesses, said Lorene Palmer, executive director of the Juneau Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

Half of Juneau's 800 to 900 hotel rooms are downtown, and many cater to the political crowd when the Legislature is in session. And the impact likely would spread far beyond the session.

In Douglas, the Aurora Inn hopes to see some legislative business this year, owner Gretta Wells said.

"Even with a shorter session, I'd still be hoping to get some business from it," she said. "I'd rather have them stay here longer."

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Despite that, Wells said the measure sounds like it might be a good idea.

"If it saves the taxpayers some money it can't be all bad," she said.

On the other hand, she's worried that there might not be enough time in a shorter session to get the job done and corners might be cut in the legislative process.

Besides heading his own real estate business, Larry Spencer also manages Juneau Development, a nonprofit which built housing to rent to legislators when they're in session. About 25 percent of the legislators and several staff people stay in their units, he said.

When the Legislature is not in session, the two-bedroom apartments are rented for short periods, usually to summer tourists.

A shorter session might work for Spencer because the current 120-day period ends May 15, while many tourist businesses want to start bringing in their summer people by May 1, or in some cases April 15.

That's not enough to make him vote for Ballot Measure 1, however.

"I think the Legislature should have as many days as they need, that's my personal opinion," he said.

Restaurants, too, may see an impact.

"We see quite a number of legislators when they are in town," said Gina Kuang, owner of Zen in the Goldbelt Hotel.

During the session, the legislative crowd makes up about 15 to 20 percent of his business, he said.

That's not enough to make him take a stand on the Ballot Measure 1.

"I usually don't stick my nose in politics," he said.

Sales tax that goes to the city and hotel room tax would also decline, Palmer said, though she said she didn't know how much.



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