Without Downtown office, Legislature lacks space for Anchorage special session
With the Legislature at a continued impasse over one of his top priorities, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has suggested calling a second special session outside of Juneau to deal with the PFD.
The Legislature last held a special session outside of Juneau in 2015 at the former Downtown Anchorage Legislative Information Office building. The $44 million, six-story LIO custom-built for the Legislature in 2014 had adequate space and other amenities to hold floor sessions and committee meetings, said Legislative Affairs Agency Executive Director Jessica Geary, but there were significant sound issues at the time.
“(Legislators’) main concerns there were sound quality. The walls were not soundproof and they had some problems with recordings,” Geary said. “If you go back and listen to the floor sessions the record is really lacking — so that was one of the biggest concerns and complaints that came up.”
The Legislature eventually abandoned that space in 2016 in response to public pressure over spending to cover the $3.3 million annual lease payments the space required, eventually leading EverBank to foreclose on the owners. Legislators also had an opportunity to purchase the building outright for about $30 million, but former Gov. Bill Walker said he would veto the appropriation if they tried. The building is now occupied by the Anchorage Police Department.
As an alternative Anchorage LIO space, lawmakers subsequently purchased a Midtown Anchorage office building from Wells Fargo bank for nearly $11.9 million in 2016. Remodeling the building to better suit lawmakers’ needs has brought the cumulative price for the building to approximately $24 million, according to LAA records.
Geary said work on the building is ongoing this summer and should be done in August.
While the new Anchorage LIO has three committee meeting rooms, it lacks space for the full House and Senate to meet and therefore still won’t be suitable for a special session, according to Geary.
“It’s just office space; that’s all it is,” she said.
The governor, who hosted a “Restore the PFD” rally June 6 at a Wasilla resort, specifically proposed holding a session at the Wasilla Middle School, where it’s presumed legislators would hear from more Alaskans who support full PFD payments and the governor’s plan for steep spending cuts.
However, officials in the Legislative Affairs Agency, which handles business and behind-the-scenes operations for the Legislature, drafted a list at the behest of legislative leaders outlining the complicating issues with holding the session in the school.
The agency cited concerns with security, IT networks, a lack of audio and video recording capabilities for committee meetings and floor sessions, and the fact that the governor’s office would control the camera system in the school, which LAA officials concluded “is not appropriate.”
“The governor should not have access to security cameras over Legislative space,” the LAA paper states.
The most workable places for a special session in Southcentral would be Anchorage’s Egan or Dena’ina convention centers, Geary said.
“We could hold floor sessions there. It would take work to get that set up but it is doable because legislators will have their offices and then committee rooms at the LIO,” she added.