Skip to main Content

Alaska lawmakers waste money on boondoggles and propose Alaskans cover the bill

  • Author: Sam Combs
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published December 22, 2015

The majority in the Legislature and our new governor (trying to clean up past mistakes that are not his fault) now propose that we possibly pay income tax, accept a statewide regressive sales tax and/or give up/reduce our Permanent Fund dividends. In the last year, the Legislature created an Anchorage political palace — the Legislative Information Office that has seen the rent go from $682,000 to around $5 million a year for 10 years minimum (including more than $8 million in irretrievable renovation costs and fancy new furniture). These are figures that came directly from the Legislative Affairs Agency (delivered to my campaign the day of the election last year). This is substantially more than the "over $4 million" reported.

You may ask why these legislators keep getting elected? To paraphrase Eddie Murphy's character in "The Distinguished Gentleman:" People vote for the name they know. The Republicans have been in charge of the Legislature for decades and their lack of fiscal conservativeness has led us to the position the state's in today. They've spent like drunken sailors — now they want us to pick up the tab. It's way past time we say no. They need to get their own House (and Senate) in order, create state budgets wisely and stop wasting tens of millions of dollars on sole-source boondoggles like the LIO and the following partial list.

In 2000, the Anchorage Daily News published a short summary of "Big Alaskan Boondoggles" based on an Alaska Division of Legislative Audit report on the Four Dam Pool. The report delineated $1.1 billion the state had spent on items such as the Anchorage fish plant, studies of the never-built Susitna Dam, the mothballed Healy "clean" coal power plant, more dam studies, investment on the failed airline MarkAir, a failed veneer mill in Ketchikan, a failed ore shipping dock in Skagway and failed grain terminals in Valdez and Seward. That list has only grown over the last 15 years, with other failures-in-the making like the Knik Arm bridge, which people have been discussing ever since my family arrived in Anchorage 60 years ago. How can the Legislature ask its constituents to give more in taxes or give up our PFDs while legislators continue to waste our money on failed or unwise projects? Someone surely benefits from these projects, because it certainly isn't our state or you or me.

As an architect I believe in sensible development with fair competition in the award of design team and construction team work determined by quality of the design team, and in construction, the low responsive bid — not based on who you know.

We've all read the recent articles that show the emails between Rep. Mike Hawker and the owner/developer of the LIO. I've read through the discovery on Jim Gottstein's case against the state — it's apparent their lawyers are objecting to the majority of the requested information on the grounds of "attorney-client privilege." Attending the hearings, I've found the judge to be reasonable, listening carefully to both sides and recently denying the state's claim that Gottstein "didn't have standing" to bring the suit. In the latest hearing on Dec. 16, the state's attorneys wanted the suit thrown out because they said it wasn't filed in a timely manner. The judge is reviewing his ruling and promised a decision in a timely manner. I think we can all agree that this lawsuit is timely; we want to see it through and the public has the right to know.

Clarification: Due to an editing error, the preceding commentary was initially published with a potentially confusing reference to a Capitol building project that had been part of a paragraph removed for the final version. The confusing reference has been removed above.

Sam Combs, an Anchorage architect, was awarded the Bartlett Democratic Club's eighth Senator Bob Bartlett Award For Dedication to Democratic Principles in 2015.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or click here to submit via any web browser.

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.