A Dawson Construction worker feeds a cement making machine as construction work ramps up at the Capitol on Monday.

A Dawson Construction worker feeds a cement making machine as construction work ramps up at the Capitol on Monday.

Lawmakers likely to stay in Juneau as session continues

The Alaska Legislature is being evicted.

By May 1, renovations to the Alaska Capitol will force lawmakers to a new location for continued work to fix Alaska’s $4 billion budget deficit.

That location is likely to be down the street, not across the state.

“It’s my desire and, I think, most of us here in the Senate, that since we’re in regular session and sessions are held in Juneau, we’re going to do it here,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, on Monday afternoon.

That’s a switch from last year, when the Legislature found itself similarly deadlocked over budget issues. Instead of staying in Juneau and continuing work, lawmakers gaveled themselves out of a special session called by Gov. Bill Walker, then reconvened in a downtown Anchorage office building leased by the Legislature.

While Monday was the 98th day of the Legislature and voters in 2006 ordered lawmakers to stick to a 90-day limit written into state law, legislators have tended to ignore that and stick to the 121-day limit enshrined in the Alaska Constitution. That limit was approved by voters who approved a constitutional amendment in 1984.

Since the 90-day limit became effective with the 2008 Legislature, lawmakers have finished before midnight on the morning of the 91st day only twice.

Last year, construction noise was a deciding factor in the decision to decamp to Anchorage, lawmakers said at the time.

The noise is as bad this year, but the mood is different.

“Nothing’s been ruled out, but we’re in regular session, and sessions are held in Juneau. My preference is to stay here and just get it done,” Meyer said.

The Speaker of the House, Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, agreed.

“I’d rather stay here because it’ll take us a lot longer to spin up (in Anchorage) than it will to finish it if we can come to some agreements,” he said.

While lawmakers seem to have reached a consensus that Juneau is the right town, they haven’t settled on the right place.

The Bill Ray Center, Centennial Hall, the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, the Terry Miller office building (uphill of the Capitol) and Marie Drake Building are all being considered as possible locations.

“We’ll go wherever Pam Varni leads us,” Meyer said of the director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, which handles session logistics.

Lawmakers toured the Bill Ray Center, formerly owned by the University of Alaska Southeast and now owned by First National Bank Alaska, on Monday afternoon.

Luke Fanning, regional vice president of FNBA, said he wasn’t able to discuss any matters associated with the Bill Ray Center.

That building is being considered for legislators’ office space and meeting space for the House and Senate finance committees. Across the street, the Marie Drake Building’s gymnasium could host a floor session.

“It looks like Bill Ray Center and other facilities in that area” are preferred, city manager Rorie Watt said on Monday afternoon.

He added that the City and Borough of Juneau, through the Alaska Committee, is prepared to help the Legislature in any way that it can.

“Whatever they need and whatever they request, we’re going to be Johnny on the Spot,” Watt said.

Lawmakers could also turn the gymnasium within the Terry Miller building into space for a floor session; when Gov. Sarah Palin held a special session in 2008 to discuss a trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline project, it was held there.

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage and the House Majority Leader, was among the lawmakers cleaning out their offices Monday in preparation for a move.

She said she was doing a little personal moving of her own, too. Like many legislators, her Juneau rental is expiring. She’s moved into the Driftwood Hotel until work is done.

As for a workspace, she said she’s pragmatic.

“I am of the mind that if I have a laptop and I have a phone, then location doesn’t matter,” she said.

Legislative Affairs Agency Executive Director Pam Varni welcomes Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, left, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, to the Bill Ray Center for a tour of the building on Monday. The legislature leadership is looking for office space to continue working in Juneau while construction starts in earnest at the Capitol.

Legislative Affairs Agency Executive Director Pam Varni welcomes Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, left, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, to the Bill Ray Center for a tour of the building on Monday. The legislature leadership is looking for office space to continue working in Juneau while construction starts in earnest at the Capitol.

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