Legislators will have to make do with old furniture from storage and state surplus when they move into their remodeled digs in Anchorage next year, but the Legislative Council approved a $500,000 budget for new furnishings in hearing rooms, public spaces and staff offices.
The council, a House-Senate committee that runs the Legislature's business, also decided Monday to take the high bid to purchase and install audio and visual systems in the upgraded office building, a $343,246 deal with Chariot Group Inc. The low bidder was Pyramid Audio Video for $290,817.
Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, said Chariot achieved a higher overall score from the committee that reviewed the bids.
By using existing furniture in the overhauled building in downtown Anchorage, the Legislature won't have to spend the estimated $900,000 for furniture suggested in a $65,000 bid-preparation study by its architectural firm, KPB Architects. But the $500,000 allowance is $400,000 higher than a special furniture subcommittee of the Legislative Council recommended.
The chairman of that subcommittee, Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, voted against the $500,000 proposal, as did one of the committee's two Democrats, Rep. Max Gruenberg of Anchorage. It passed 10-2.
The Legislature leases the building from developers Mark Pfeffer and Bob Acree. The $44 million remodel, paid for with the state's rent and "tenant improvements" by the Legislature, has been widely ridiculed as the "Taj Mahawker" after the chairman of the Legislative Council, Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage. Hawker signed the no-bid, 10-year lease extension that allowed the overhaul to begin.
Sam Combs, Hawker's Democratic opponent in House District 28, described the furniture purchase as "an appalling example of fiscal mismanagement by Mike Hawker and the legislative majority. How on earth can he justify spending a half-million on furniture — a 500 percent increase — while the state is in deficit spending and Anchorage teachers are being laid off?"
But Hawker said the Legislature was being smart with money by buying new modular furniture for staff. That way, as legislators move up in seniority and get better offices, their staff won't have to move their old furniture into the new space — the existing desks and chairs there would be identical. That will save on labor and wear and tear, he said.
During the meeting, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, noted that when new offices were furnished in Eagle River, the cost was about $100,000 for just five legislative offices.
In Anchorage, Hawker said, the office building will house 21 legislators plus staff for four leadership offices and additional nonpartisan staff who work in technology and ethics. The budget for the 21 legislative offices is $8,000 each, Hawker said.
"I would contrast that with the Eagle River offices, which were over $21,000 a copy," Hawker said.
The House speaker and Senate president will be in charge of their own furniture selections, Hawker said.