Caleb Berry is a senator for USUAA.
The debate to move the Alaska State Capital from Juneau to Alaska is nothing new. The debate began in the 1960s, and in 1974, a measure to move the state capital was approved under the administration of Governor Hammond. The effort died, not only because of the cost of the move but because of the mutual mistrust of Alaska’s two largest cities; Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Anchorage should be Alaska’s capital. To support this argument it is necessary to examine why past efforts have failed.
The 1974 measure included a provision that forbade either Anchorage or Fairbanks to become the new capital if the capital was moved from Juneau. The new capital could also not be within 30 miles of either city under the provision. This was an absurd provision that eliminated the two most reasonable replacement capitals. This restriction was included because politicians and business people of both cities did not want an opposing city to gain the benefits. According to “Alaska: A History,” by Claus Naske, his left the Alaskan people with few viable options to consider that did not come with an outrageous price tag of at least $2.5 billion.
The Alaskan people chose Willow as the new location of the capital. The only problem is that over one-fifth of the $2.5 billion burden would have to be shouldered by the state. The project could have been funded via bond proposition or from oil revenues but neither option appealed to the Alaskan people, according to the Alaska Review, a legislature and Alaska Humanities Forum-sponsored program that aired in the 1970s.
There are multiple justifications for the Alaskan people to entertain the idea of replacing Juneau as the capital with Anchorage.
Anchorage is by far Alaska’s largest city. In 2017, the U.S. Census Bureau released a population estimate reporting that Anchorage holds a population of approximately 294,356 people out of a statewide population of 739,795 people, which is almost 40 percent of the state population.
A 2017 estimate of Juneau’s population declares the capital’s population to be just above 32,000. It is unreasonable to argue that a state’s largest city should always be its capital; however, politicians are public servants. Public servants should be within reasonable proximity to the people they serve. At the very least, doesn’t Anchorage’s population justifies continued entertainment of the idea of making it the seat of our state government?
Not all states make their most populated city their capital. Sacramento is California’s capital, despite the fact Los Angeles has far more citizens; however, most states at least have their capital in an area that is comparable to the state’s larger cities.
There have been over a dozen different efforts since the 1980’s to move the state capital away from Juneau. Each one of the efforts are available to the public on the Alaska Division of Elections homepage. Each of these have ended in failure with the chief reason being the cost of such a project.
In 2015, Senator Bill Stoltze (R) went public with plans to move the state legislature to Anchorage. Keep in mind this effort was not even to necessarily move the official capital, just the legislative sessions. The State of Alaska does currently offer estimates about how much it would cost to move the capital. The Alaska Division of Elections homepage does, however, offer each measure to move the capital that has ever been formally considered as well as a vote count.
In 1982 a measure to move the state capital to Willow failed by over 10,000 votes. According to Katie Moritz, reporter for Juneau Empire, the move was estimated to potentially cost taxpayers $2.8 billion at the time.
Make no mistake it would cost the State of Alaska a significant expense to move the capital to Anchorage. According to Tim Bradner, writing for the Alaska Journal of Commerce, in 2016 the state faced a $3.5 billion dollar deficit. The Alaskan economy is slowly improving; however, that does not mean now is the time to recklessly pursue extravagant projects without proper forethought.
The relative inaccessibility of Juneau makes it an inferior option as a capital, at least when compared to Anchorage. The people have tried numerous times to move the capital but the cost has kept it from happening. It goes against Juneau’s best interest, but our state government needs to work out a way to make the move less expensive.
Opinions expressed in The Northern Light do not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper, its staff or faculty advisor(s).