Capital relocation: It's back

Legislative staffers coach Kenai residents to lobby for move to Southcentral

Posted: Tuesday, December 07, 2004

KENAI - A group of Kenai Peninsula residents has formed a committee to lobby for moving the state capital out of Juneau.

Spurred to organize by the announcement of plans to build a new capitol in downtown Juneau, organizers say their goal is to move the Legislature closer to the state's population base. About a dozen people gathered in Soldotna last Thursday to lay out their agenda.

"Right now, Juneau is trying to push to get the capitol built there," said Rex Weimer, who was elected to lead the group.

"We want to move the Legislature and get the new capitol building stopped," organizer Molly Musgrove said.

Juneau officials recently announced plans to build a new $100 million capitol, which it would lease to the state for about $6.5 million a year.

Keith Gerken, of Juneau's Capitol Planning Commission, said Alaskans should step back and consider the proposed new building and relocating the state government as separate issues.

"Groups have been trying to move the capital out of Juneau for (nearly) 40 years," Gerken said.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho noted the difference in cost. In 1984, the estimated cost of moving the seat of government from Juneau was higher than $900 million.

But Kenai organizers believe that keeping the capital in Juneau may also be costly.

Legislative staffers for state Reps. Mike Chenault, R-Kenai, and Kelly Wolf, R-Kenai, have offered to advise the Kenai group on how to organize, how to register as lobbyists and how to obtain information on exact costs of keeping the state Legislature in Juneau.

The legislative aides, Erich DeLand and Neal DuPerron, said they were not speaking for their bosses.

Organizers said knowing the costs was necessary to bring their case to the public.

"We need to know the cost of leaving (the Legislature) there versus the cost of moving it," Musgrove said.

In 1974, Alaska voters approved relocating the seat of government and building a new capital. Willow was selected as the new location in 1976.

Since then, voters have not approved funding the move, have voted against moving the capital to Wasilla and have voted against moving the Legislature to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Botelho said moving the seat of government to Southcentral Alaska would allow all economic and political power to be concentrated in one region of the state.

A new capitol is needed in Juneau because the current building is inadequate, he said.

The proposed new building would be 160,000 to 180,000 square feet and be funded by revenue bonds issued by the city of Juneau.

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