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Key legislative committee supports buying bank building for offices

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published May 17, 2016

JUNEAU — A committee of legislative leaders has voted 13-1 to abandon their newly renovated offices in downtown Anchorage and spend up to $12.5 million to replace it with the Wells Fargo building in Spenard near Minnesota Drive and Benson Boulevard.

The purchase isn't final — it still has to be negotiated with Wells Fargo and approved in this year's state budget. But the vote Monday was lawmakers' strongest indication yet that they plan to move.

The decision came after the the Legislative Council, the Legislature's House-Senate committee that runs the Legislature's business, met for about an hour in a closed-door executive session. Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito, the lone minority member on the committee, was the only lawmaker opposed.

The money for the purchase would come from the state capital and construction budget, which passed the Senate on Saturday and is now before the House.

In the Senate's floor debate on the capital budget, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and the council's chairman, described the Legislature's longstanding Anchorage office dilemma as "a problem we inherited that we did not create."

Gov. Bill Walker has threatened to veto a $32.5 million offer to buy lawmakers' current offices, on Fourth Avenue, that the Legislative Council voted to make earlier this year. And Anchorage Superior Court Judge Patrick McKay in March said the Legislature's lease for the Fourth Avenue building was illegal and invalid.

"We can't buy it, we can't lease it, and we're kind of stuck — as we always have been," Stevens told his colleagues Saturday. The Wells Fargo building, he added, is "move-in ready."

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, offered an amendment to the capital budget to strip out the $12.5 million for the purchase. He and Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck have proposed that lawmakers rent space in their districts for about $400,000 annually, then pay for a few rooms downtown in the state-owned Atwood Building for hearings.

With the state facing a $4 billion budget deficit, the argument to buy the Wells Fargo building for less than the Fourth Avenue offices, Wielechowski said, "is sort of like saying, 'We are broke. I've lost my job. But there's this great sale going on down at Fred Meyer — so let me grab my credit card, run down there and buy a bunch of stuff that I really don't need.' "

Wielechowski's amendment was rejected in a 16-4 vote.

The capital budget, with the money for the Wells Fargo building, is now in the House for consideration, after passing the Senate in a 16-4 vote along majority-minority lines. A vote in the House is expected later this week.