Two buildings cost more than one

Thursday, May 19, 2016 - 11:03

We're not mathematicians. That's why we prefer to dabble in words and not numbers.

Fortunately, it doesn't require a declaration of the Alaska Office of Management and Budget for us to know that heating, powering and maintaining two buildings is more expensive than one.

That's why we're scratching our heads at the Legislative Council's 12-1 vote last week to purchase a new office building for Anchorage lawmakers.

Just because the most recent building, considered by some lawmakers a deal at just $12.5 million, is cheaper than the current Legislative Information office ($32.5 million) doesn't mean it's a smart purchase. That's like deciding to purchase a Subaru instead of a Ferrari when you can't afford gas money for either.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon says purchasing the building from current owner Wells Fargo will be cheaper than renovating the state-owned Atwood Building and paying for interim office space while renovations take place. This statement underscores a major problem with our Legislature as a whole: They refuse to look beyond next year. Purchasing a $12.5 million building may be the cheaper option (that's if the Wells Fargo building requires no renovation) over the next few years, but elected leaders should be thinking long-term savings. This lack of foresight is how Alaska ended up with a $4 billion deficit to begin with. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that oil prices go down as well as up.

This newspaper said just a week ago that the City and Borough of Juneau should avoid putting public dollars toward the Juneau Ocean Center because this isn't the time for state or local governments to begin building new things. We must take care of what we already have. The same argument holds true for the Legislative Council's persistent attempts to buy a building, even though it already has one that will suffice.

Juneau is very familiar with the notion of having two buildings where one will do. We've learned a painful lesson through the experience of building a second high school and a second community pool. We enjoy these facilities, but now that we've been confronted with the bill, they seem much less necessary.

The majority of Alaskans we've heard from are OK with the idea of getting less from the state. We have to be. The Legislature shouldn't treat itself differently. If the rest of us are expected to sacrifice jobs, services and public safety, those making these decisions shouldn't increase their own luxuries.

On Thursday, the Alaska Senate Finance Committee approved a state capital budget that contains $12.5 million for the new building. What was left out? $7.2 million for a new village school in Kivalina. That payment is, we believe, required by a lawsuit the state settled.

For the sake of a new office building in Anchorage, the Alaska Legislature is sacrificing the children of Kivalina. It is putting the state at risk of a new lawsuit. This is atop the lawsuit already being threatened by the bank that funded renovations to the existing Anchorage Legislative offices. The Kivalina school is just one example among many of where money is needed but won't be received if unnecessary spending isn't curbed.

We don't know whether to cry or laugh.

A new office might make legislative staffers more efficient, but that new office isn't essential. We've heard time and again from legislators this year that only essential services can be offered in this budget. Lawmakers should listen to themselves.

Gov. Bill Walker previously said he'd veto any attempt to purchase the Anchorage LIO for $32.5 million. He has declined to say whether he'd do the same for this building. We hope he will again vow to veto this proposal for the sake of fiscal conservatism and Alaska's shrunken revenue.

Our simple hope is that politicians who call themselves fiscal conservatives will act like they are.

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