JUNEAU -- The Legislature will not be buying its office in Anchorage any time soon, the Legislative Council decided Thursday.
In a 7:30 a.m. meeting that began with three of seven representatives and all seven senators present, Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said he was removing the Anchorage Legislative Information Office purchase from the agenda.
His proposal to buy just the building for $28 million, leaving the land and parking lot in the hands of developers, was proving seriously unpopular with legislators, most of whom are facing voters this year. The deal would have the state rent the ground and parking lot for nearly twice what it has been paying for the entire building in the previous lease.
Hawker said the deal saved the state money, but it has been derided by protesters -- who held a mock ribbon cutting -- and criticized by senators and representatives of both parties.
The Legislature is going nowhere fast: Thursday's decision leaves the Legislative Council's freshly signed 10-year lease for the building intact. The downtown office building on West Fourth Avenue is undergoing extensive renovation.
Putting as good a face on the pullback as he could, Hawker, the chairman of the joint committee, said:
"While I believe that the Anchorage LIO purchase speaks for itself, on its own merits, I do recognize that the events of the past two weeks have proven that some legislators do not have time to become sufficiently comfortable with the proposal, and then especially in consideration that we are in the middle of the last waning 10 days of session here, when other mission-critical issues are competing strongly for everyone's attention."
The council, the largest legislative committee, contains the presiding officers of both bodies and members of both parties, though Democrats have only two of the regular 14 seats plus one of the alternate posts. The council is like the executive and housekeeping arm of the Legislature, conducting business 12 months a year.
Sen. Peter Micciche, the committee's vice chairman, praised Hawker's efforts, which he noted were conducted at the request of the council.
"I think that none of us are comfortable with this deal -- it's expensive, but here are the facts," said Micciche, R-Soldotna. "The LIO houses half the Legislature for three-quarters of the year, in the area of the most expensive real estate in the state."
In the future, Micciche suggested, "we can consider the expansive prairies of Midtown in which to relocate, or smaller spaces, but where we are is where we are."
After the meeting, Hawker was restrained in talking to reporters. Asked whether Senate President Charlie Huggins' proposal earlier this week to seek a one-year deal with the building owner and explore a new purchase despite the 10-year lease, Hawker said:
"The lease is the lease is the lease."
"So 10 years, there's no one-year option?" a reporter asked.
"The lease is the lease is the lease -- it's a 10-year lease."
"And in the meantime, this is your second year on council. We don't know what happens with the next Legislature, but in the interim, is there any looking at other options or do we just see this 10-year through?" a reporter asked.
"The lease is the lease is the lease," Hawker said.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 500-7388.
By RICHARD MAUER