Proposed initiative would move Legislature to Anchorage

Snow falls on the Alaska Capitol in Juneau on Feb. 18. A group of Alaskans applied to hold a citizen initiative to move legislative sessions to Anchorage. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

A group of Alaskans has applied to hold a citizen initiative to move legislative sessions from Juneau to Anchorage.

The initiative would also bypass a law that requires that the state to seek voters’ approval before incurring the costs of relocating the Legislature. It’s the latest in a long series of attempts to move at least some of the capital’s functions away from Juneau — so far unsuccessfully.

Anchorage resident David Bronson is one of three sponsors who filed the application on Feb. 4.

“We need more people in Alaska with access to legislators during session,” he said. “And that’s Anchorage.”

Attempts to move the capital city have failed due at least in part to the cost. There has been only one previous initiative to move just the Legislature — to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in 2002. It failed by a margin of more than two-to-one.

State law requires that the public vote on whether to pay any costs from moving the Legislature or the capital city. The cost would be covered by a bond that would be paid over 12 years.

Bronson said the public should know the costs of any move. But he said it would actually save money by lowering the travel and lodging costs for lawmakers. And he said the initiative would change the law that requires that voters be informed of the cost.

“That’s a very complex, expensive process,” he said of the existing law. “We are moving to change that statutory language, as well as move the Legislature. It’s a two-part thing.”

The initiative will require at least 28,501 signatures. The signatures must come from at least 7 percent of the voters in 30 different House districts. Bronson declined to say if the sponsors have hired someone to collect the signatures. But he did say that there are people who would gather signatures who have guaranteed they’ll reach the required number.

Legislative leaders are skeptical.

Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, said she’ll be interested in how Alaskans respond to the cost.

“Moving the session to Anchorage would be a logistics challenge, finding a location for this number of offices and these kinds of legislative sessions,” she said. “So at this point, as difficult as it is for all of us to be away from home, this is where the job is today.”

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, opposes the initiative. He said the Legislature is established in Juneau, and the costs of a move would add up.

“When you look at the cost involved with moving many staff, the sound equipment, the fact that we have voting boards down here already established in the House and Senate chambers, I think it’s less efficient to meet away from the Capitol,” he said.

The state Division of Elections has until April 8 to review the application to ensure it complies with the state law governing initiatives.