What others say: Lawmakers want one more big meal before tightening belts

  • Sunday, April 19, 2015 9:31pm
  • Opinion

A group of lawmakers are looking to gorge themselves one more time before notching new holes and tightening their belts. Instead, we recommend a no-spending diet. If that’s what is good for the rest of the state, surely it must apply to them as well.

We’re talking about the Legislative Council’s 15-1 vote to buy the Legislative Information Office building in Anchorage for $70 million.

We won’t revert to capital creep as the reason this deal shouldn’t be made — there are 3.9 billion other reasons why this move ranges between fiscally irresponsible and blatantly hypocritical.

Juneau Rep. Sam Kito did us proud as the only voice of reason on the 16-member council.

According to a March 2014 report from Rep. Mike Hawker’s office, the state could have purchased the building a year ago for $28 million. That was before renovations were complete. The state paid $7.5 million toward those renovations, which cost $44 million overall. The newer, shinier office space came with a newer, shinier price tag. The state’s lease rose from $684,000 annually to $3.4 million.

As Juneau Empire columnist Rich Moniak noted in a recent My Turn, the 60,000 square-foot Anchorage LIO is being leased at $7 per square foot — double what the state pays for its next-highest lease agreement. Yet the Anchorage LIO lease is being touted as a good deal because the lease is lower than its market value. But isn’t that like boasting about getting a good deal on a Porsche when you can’t afford to pay for its gas or insurance?

The state is expecting to pay $45.5 million total during the 10-year lease, which was signed last year. Fearing a lawsuit if it backs out of the lease, the Legislative Council now wants to spend $35 million more to clean up its mess. Sure, the State of Alaska will own a shiny new office building in Anchorage. We want to know: does the state truly need this?

The cost of renovating the state-owned Atwood Building is affordable, even cheap, in comparison at $2.5 million. And there will likely be plenty of space to accommodate the two dozen Anchorage lawmakers and their staffs once state departments lay off workers and consolidate offices in July.

Alaskans expect to see government shrink this year and next, so if there is no space in the Atwood Building, we expect there soon will be.

Signing such a long-term lease, at five times the previous amount, didn’t make sense in 2014 when the state was facing a $1 billion deficit. Buying the whole farm now when the state is facing a $3.9 billion deficit is ludicrous.

Alaskans should be outraged that while transportation, education and public services are getting axed, a minority of lawmakers are plotting a deal to buy a McMansion with few checks and balances in place to stop it.

It will be a hard pill to swallow when the Legislature takes away Alaskan jobs but refuses to part with its toys. We expect better from our elected leaders and for them to set the example of what living within our means should look like. Otherwise they’ll gorge, and likely choke, on one of the worst deals the state could make at this time.

— Juneau Empire, April 17

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