JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Alaska legislators being forced from the state Capitol due to renovation work are setting up shop in a no-frills, nearby former university building, where old classrooms or conference areas will serve as committee rooms and legislators in some cases will share close-quarters office space.
By Monday, virtually everyone will need to be out of the Capitol because of the construction work. The offices of Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are moving to a building about a block from the Capitol.
The Bill Ray Center, which First National Bank Alaska purchased from the University of Alaska, is one of several buildings lawmakers plan to use as they continue meeting in extended session. In making the move, many lawmakers will be giving up private offices and trading glittering views of Gastineau Channel for views of parking lots or a gas station.
The House and Senate Finance committees, which meet in the most well-appointed committee rooms in the Capitol, will occupy non-descript conference room space. The space designated for news reporters is an old anatomy lab.
Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, called the space adequate.
“I really don’t want anything too nice or too comfortable, because we want to get done and leave town,” he said. “Not that we don’t like Juneau; we love Juneau. But it’s time to get back to our families and other things.”
Lawmakers also plan to use include the Thomas Stewart building, connected to the Capitol by a skywalk, and the Terry Miller Building, just behind the statehouse, where lawmakers plan to hold floor sessions.
The House’s inability to reach agreement on oil and gas tax credit changes by the end of the voter-approved 90-day session limit helped send lawmakers into overtime. They’ve been meeting in extended session since April 18. The constitution allows for regular sessions of up to 121 days, with an option to extend for another 10.
Walker has said he wants lawmakers to deliver a plan for digging the state out of an estimated $4 billion budget deficit exacerbated by low oil prices. Resolution on credits is seen as key to making further progress on the budget and revenue bills.
The House Rules Committee has scheduled a hearing for Monday on a rewrite of Walker’s tax credit bill. House Speaker Mike Chenault said the committee plans to take testimony from the oil and gas industry and the public. He said the hope is to advance a version of the bill from committee late Monday or Tuesday morning.
Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he didn’t know whether the bill has sufficient support within his Republican-led caucus. “That’s what we’re trying to do is get enough support in our caucus, and we hope that brings some minority members along, too,” he said Friday.
House Rules posted a draft rewrite of the bill this week but has yet to formally adopt or consider it.
Luke Fanning, southeast regional manager and vice president for First National Bank Alaska, said rent for the Bill Ray Center will be $25,000 a month, about 50 percent of market value. That will be prorated, meaning that if it isn’t needed for a full month, the state wouldn’t be charged for the full month.
It was offered at that price “to encourage them to stay here in Juneau and concentrate on stabilizing our economy,” Fanning said. The bank launched a campaign this year in which it didn’t support a specific fix to the state’s budget woes but did support legislators acting now to secure a long-term, sustainable budget plan, he said.
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