Thursday, November 02, 2006

Alaska 2006 Ballot Measure One: Do We Really Need A 90-Day Legislative Session Limit?

Amongst the many decisions to be rendered by Alaska voters on November 7th, 2006 will be a verdict on Alaska General Ballot Measure One. Click HERE to see the full text. The measure simply states, "The legislature shall adjourn from a regular session within 90 consecutive calendar days, including the day the legislature first convenes in that regular session".

Statements of support and opposition will be included on the ballot. The Statement of Support, submitted by State Senator Tom Wagoner (Senate District Q - Kenai Peninsula), lists three advantages:

1). Will save 30 days of legislator per diem and operational expenses.

2). Twenty-seven other U.S. states have a shorter session, implying that shorter sessions can work.

3). Twenty-four previous attempts to implement this measure legislatively have failed to even get to the floor of either body for action.

Proponents emphasize that special sessions would be unaffected. The legislature could be called into special session as needed.

The Statement of Opposition, submitted by former Majority Leader Mike Miller, former committee chariman Niilo E. Koponen, and former Speaker of the House Sam Cotton, focuses more on ethical considerations.

1). Many bills are sufficiently complex to require consideration from multiple committees. Shorter sessions may prevent bills from clearing multiple committees in time for a floor vote during the session.

2). Lobbyists would find it easier to convince a sympathetic committee chariman to sit on a bill to prevent its consideration. The shorter the allowable session, the easire it would be to stall a good bill's progress until the legislative session clock runs out.

3). The more you limit the legislature's time to do business, the more you limit the opportunity for Alaskans to hear the facts and share their expertise.

Furthermore, since the current 120-day session limit was introduced in 1985, every single legislature has been called back into special session, as much as three separate times in one year. If a 120-day limit is insufficient, how could a 90-day limit possibly be more effective?

Analysis: The opposition argument carries the day. The 90-day limit is little more than purposeless populism - just more feelgood legislation. With no limit on special sessions, we could end up spending more on legislative per diem and airfare as lawmakers are called back into even more special sessions to compensate for the shorter regular session. I recommend a NO vote on November 7th.

Now if we really wanted to make the state legislature more efficient, let's move them to the one place that would eliminate airfare and lodging costs for over half the state's lawmakers - Anchorage. Of course, detractors would claim that the people have voted down previous capital move initiatives, which is true. Voters rejected two attempts to move the capital to Wasilla and never followed through on the Willow initiative. However, all the previous failed intiatives had one thing in common - none of them called for the capital to be moved to Anchorage.

And this is because Anchorage, feeling guilty about its economic dominance of the state (which should be expected since it contains half the state's population) feared adverse reaction from the rest of the state, particularly Fairbanks. So they threw a bone to Fairbanks by proposing to relocate the capital to a place at least 30 miles away from Anchorage. Do they really believe Fairbanks is so stupid as to not see through this transparency? As far as Fairbanks is concerned, Wasilla and even Willow are still Anchorage.

In this case, we're not calling for the entire capital to be moved - just the legislature. This should make it more palatable. And the cost savings from eliminating airfare, lodging costs, and moving expenses of half the state's lawmakers in one fell swoop, as well as the travel costs of nearly all the rest of the lawmakers except those in Southeast Alaska can be used to bring the rest of the state around. Fairbanks' lawmakers would pay less for their airfare, too. And since Fairbanks voters recently demonstrated such a dramatic concern for lowering costs, I think this emphasis would cause them to at least accept the relocation of the legislature to Anchorage.

Of course, this begs the question "Where would we put them?" Representative Vic Kohring of House District 14 in Wasilla has previously suggested they be housed in the Atwood Building. However, when I put the question to former House member Andrew Halcro last year when he was guest-hosting for Dan Fagan on his radio show, Halcro disagreed with this premise. The very next caller put forth an intriguing suggestion, though. He suggested the legislature could use the soon-to-be-vacated facilities at Kulis Air National Guard Base, which adjoins Anchorage International Airport and whose units are relocating to Elmendorf Air Force Base.

So we have the location and we have the rationale. Let's quit nibbling around the edges with cheap gimmickry like Ballot Measure One and go all the way. Move the legislature to Anchorage!

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