In a 13-to-1 vote, the Legislative Council has decided to punt on the question of what to do with the Anchorage legislative information office.
The council, a small but powerful group of lawmakers who effectively serve as the Legislature’s officer managers, decided to pay the rent on the building for the year. Sen. Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican who chairs the group, said that would give them time to see if they can get out of the lease terms.
“We will attempt to enter into negotiations with the owners for purchase of the building and the land,” said Stevens.
As part of a sole-source contract, the state spent nearly $8 million to renovate the Anchorage LIO last year. But the state does not own the property, and has instead signed a 10-year lease to use it at an annual rate of $3.5 million. In the face of public pressure over the agreement, the Legislature considered buying the building outright, but backed down when the property owners did not want to sell the land.
But with the state facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit, lawmakers have toyed with the breaking the lease and relocating to state-owned building at a lower price. Stevens said the extra time would also allow the Legislature think through that option and look at other Anchorage real estate for the office.
Rep. Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican who serves as the House majority leader, supported delaying action on the Anchorage LIO. She worried about the financial liability if the Legislature breaks its contract.
“If we got into a long-term lawsuit over this issue, I don’t think that would be good for the state either,” said Millett.
Rep. Sam Kito, a Juneau Democrat and the lone minority member on the council, was the only member to oppose the decision. He argued that the if the Legislature has cheaper office options available now, it should take them.
“I do have a concern that as we are telling everybody else to tighten up their belts because we don’t have a lot of money, that we as a Legislature will then be occupying the most expensive building in Anchorage,” said Kito.
The Legislature currently faces a lawsuit over the Anchorage LIO over damages allegedly caused to nearby properties during its renovations.