In case you were worried the Legislature might be making too much progress in Juneau on issues of substance such as the state budget and revenue bills, don’t worry — yet another proposal to move the capital is on the table. House Bill 185, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, would permanently move the Legislature to Anchorage. Although this wouldn’t be an official capital move, don’t be fooled — it would accomplish the same end while maintaining plausible deniability for its supporters. When it comes to proposed capital moves, whether to Anchorage or any other place, the state has little to gain.
The reason why a Legislature move is a de facto capital move is apparent to those who live or work in Juneau, even if the rest of us may be somewhat more insulated from its direct impacts. If the Legislature were to move to Anchorage, it would be unproductive for the governor and his administration to remain in Juneau, because communication and coordination between the executive and legislative branches of government is essential. What’s more, much of the benefit of having Juneau headquarters for statewide administration of Alaska agencies such as the departments of Public Safety, Transportation and Environmental Conservation is that they can more effectively serve the governor and Legislature when they’re close at hand. It seems obvious that staffing for those agencies would follow the Legislature, even if they were not required to do so.
And despite all the ballyhoo about making government more accountable to the people if it’s headquartered on the road system, that’s what proposed capital moves really tend to be about: jobs and centralizing power. In other states, where the state capitals are not only on the road system but also often located in states’ largest population centers, there is little more participation in government by residents than here in Alaska. The Legislature’s own experiment with moving sessions to Anchorage, which it has done during special sessions for the past two years, bears this fact out: Though the matters being discussed by the Legislature were crucially important — the state budget, revenue measures and oil tax credits — few residents came to testify or watch the proceedings, despite the session taking place in downtown Anchorage, the easiest place for a majority of the state’s residents to access if they were so inclined.
As Southcentral Alaska has outpaced the rest of the state in population growth, there has been an influx of state resources to Anchorage, Wasilla, Palmer and other nearby communities. Some of those funding and position increases have tracked the growing population base, but quite a bit has also come as a result of increasing political clout and centralization of power bases in the Legislature. It is in the state’s best interest to mitigate, not hasten, the existence of an urban center that dominates politics and funding allocations to the detriment of outlying communities, especially those already suffering from higher costs for fuel, groceries and material goods.
For decades, the capital’s location in Juneau has helped isolate the legislative process from domination by Alaska’s larger urban centers. Despite dozens of attempts to relocate the state’s seat of power to Anchorage, Willow or even Fairbanks, a compelling reason for such a move has yet to emerge. Don’t hold your breath waiting for one.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,