JUNEAU — As legislators begin traveling to Juneau for the beginning of the 31st session of the Alaska Legislature, Rep George Rauscher (R-Sutton) is leading the way with a handful of pre-filed bills that were announced on the State’s website Monday morning. Rauscher sponsored eight bills and one constitutional amendment. No other Valley legislator filed more than one bill.
Among Rauscher’s pre-filed bills lies House Bill 2, which would move the capital to Anchorage. Rauscher said he feels that the location of the capital in Juneau cuts off a large quantity of constituents from being able to interact with their legislators, especially during floor session and committee hearings. Rauscher also believes that the move would be cost effective for the state, moving the majority of legislators within 30 miles of the state’s largest city.
“We’re possibly headed into a Republican led majority and I think the odds on that happening might even be better yet than they’ve been. I think because last year, the position we were in the minority had a lot to do with it not moving anywhere. We’re hoping because of change now with the majority, it has a better chance to move forward,” Rauscher said.
There has been a long history of failed attempts to relocate the capital. Beginning in 1960, just after the advent of statehood, Ballot Measure 1 was put in front of voters and lost by more than 5,000 votes. Since then, there have been nine separate attempts of bills introduced with intent to move the capital. Of the three ballot measures that passed, none have resulted in a permanent move of the capitol. Bond packages proposed following the passage of these Ballot Measures that would have appropriated funds for the move never passed. Senator-elect Chris Birch (R-Anchorage), who was a member of the House during last session, also proposed a capital move bill.
“With that in place, if you look at the number of legislators close, meeting in Anchorage I believe over half could end up putting their head in their own pillow at night. It’s hard to put a number on the merits and the value of the public to get up close and personal with their legislators,” Birch said. “My view is that there’s much to be gained.”
Rauscher stressed the availability of legislators to the public. Currently, members of the public who wish to testify on a bill in person must travel to Juneau, where they are at the mercy of the schedule of the legislature. If session runs long or committee meetings get canceled or postponed, they may not have time to wait until the bill gets a hearing. Rauscher believes that if the capital were moved to Anchorage, more public involvement would be possible.
Ballot Measure 1 in 1974 passed by more than 10,000 votes. Ballot Measure 3 in 1978 passed by more than 14,000 votes, and Ballot Measure 5 in 1994 passed by more than 113,000 votes, with the new projected capital to be placed in Willow, as had been designated in 1976. In cost analysis provided by the Alaska Division of Elections, total funds required for a capital move to Willow were around 3 billion dollars ($2,843,147,000). The same data sheet lists a need for 15,000 people expected to reside in the new capital for the study done in 1994. Voters rejected the bondable costs of $966 million in 1978 and again in 1994 for $2.8 billion.
Birch and Rauscher both found problems with that number. Last year, a bill was passed that prevents legislators that live within 30 miles of the capital from collecting per diem costs. If the capital were moved to Anchorage, that would encompass more than half of the legislature that would not accrue costs of living while staying in their own homes for session. Birch asserted that the number was not accurate, including state commissioners who mostly have offices in Anchorage and must travel to Juneau throughout session for their work with the legislature. Birch’s bill did not require a move of the entire capital complex to Anchorage, just the meeting of the legislature.
“You don’t even have to broach the subject of a capitol move to have a legislature meet in Anchorage,” Birch said. “The best government is a government in touch with the constituents and people they represent.”
Not all Alaskans are in favor of having the capital relocate, specifically those in Juneau. Former Juneau Major Bruce Botelho points back to the original constitutional conventions during early statehood. Botelho asserts that the original legislature intentionally put the capital in Juneau, to keep the hub of the government away from the hub of the economy in Anchorage and the hub of the University in Fairbanks.
“This debate has been obviously a perennial one. Juneau-ites in part are those that oppose the capitol move,” Botelho said. “As a community, we’re very anxious to keep the capitol in Juneau. We’ve invested a lot of resources into making sure technology is available for teleconferencing video conferencing.”
Botelho says that while Juneau was slated as the capital, the original legislators did not establish Juneau as a permanent capital. Juneau was established as the territorial capital in 1912. Almost immediately following Alaska’s entrance into statehood, a measure was proposed to move the capital. A case went before the Alaska Supreme Court in 1962 that decided that the section of the constitution designating Juneau as the capital was not intended to be permanent. Botelho is also of the mind that a capital move would not increase participation from the public on government matters.
“When the legislature has convened sessions in Anchorage it has not led to increased public participation. People shown up largely lobbyists and staffers who were in Juneau,” Botelho said.
The Alaska Committee officially incorporated as a non-profit in 1995 to enhance Juneau’s claim as Alaska’s capital city. They initiated Gavel-to-Gavel public television, which broadcasts committee hearings and floor sessions during session. A group in 2017 named Equal Access Alaska announced that they would be moving toward a legislature move on the 2020 ballot.
“There is no way to conduct government business efficiently when the Legislature is in one city and the other functions of government are in another. Don’t forget, what would move is an entire branch of state government – the Alaska State Legislature – that has 500 employees – and occupies hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space,” reads one of the frequently asked questions on the Alaska Committee’s website. “Add all these costs to the economic devastation the move would cost Juneau and the SE region of the State and you realize it doesn’t make sense to spend money we don’t have on something we don’t need.”
Contact Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey at email@example.com.
Valley legislators’ pre-filed bills
HB 2 — Rep. Rauscher: Hold legislative sessions in Anchorage
HB 3 — Rep. Rauscher: State land sale, PFD voucher and assign.
HB 4 — Rep. Rauscher: Defensive display of firearm
HB 5 — Rep. Rauscher: Prohibit state funded sex change operations
HB 6 — Rep. Rauscher: Display of state and national mottos
HB 7 — Rep. Rauscher: Sex education
HB 9 — Rep. Rauscher: Criminal law, parole, probation, sentencing
HB 11 — Rep. Rauscher: Peace officer retirement benefits
HB 17 — Rep. Rauscher: Repeal certificate of need program
HB 23 — Rep. Neuman: Snowmachine registration fees
HJR 1 — Rep. Rauscher: Constitutional amendment, voter approval for new taxes
SB 1 — Sen. Wilson: Repeal certificate of need program
SJR 3 — Sen. Shower: Constitutional amendment, membership of judicial council