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That $4 Million Legislative Rent Increase: Not Again, Not Without Your Say
As you know, I’m in that camp of folks who think the Legislature DID NOT NEED the new, fancy, and more importantly, expensive Anchorage off-session digs. Not at a price tag that raises our rent and utilities from roughly $680,000 a year to roughly $5 million a year. Not when this state is bleeding from deficits. See here.
Uh oh. Warning. I’m about to go half off-topic for just one sentence – I think you’ll like it?!?!?
Being frugal with your money also means being frugal personally, and I was proud to find out Wednesday that I spent less on legislative travel the past two years than any other legislator (though, to be fair to rural legislators, they have unavoidably high travel costs). You can see that story here.
OK, back to the point of this newsletter. We should focus our public dollars on priorities.
Prioritizing means protecting children, schools, and your chance to succeed before we increase our rent five-fold for an office building that houses legislators and staff when we are not in session. You can see Rep. Mike Hawker’s (R-Anchorage) views on his decision to sign that contract, as the Chairman of the Legislative Council, in the attached article here. We just respectfully disagree on this one.
So today I and Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) filed legislation to make sure this doesn’t happen again, at least without public notice and your input. While I and many other legislators did not support Rep. Hawker’s decision, I also believe we need to fix problems so they are not repeated in the future. The following is a press release we issued that discusses our bill.
I’ll keep fighting to reverse a fourth year of proposed education cuts, for opportunity for all, and to treat all Alaskans, including our seniors who have contributed so much, with dignity. We can budget frugally, without cutting opportunity or harming the economy.
As always, please call if we can help, or if you have any questions.
For Immediate Release: February 14th, 2014
Gara, Wielechowski File Bill Requiring Public Input Before Major Legislative Office Rent Increases Allowed
JUNEAU – Today, Rep. Les Gara and Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) introduced legislation establishing a mandatory public commentary period before the legislature signs a binding “sole source” contract for new, expanded, or remodeled office as recently occurred in Anchorage in 2013.
“The latest education proposal from the Governor lays off 200 more educators. When opportunities for our children are being cut, every public dollar spent needs to be properly reviewed. Spending should reflect our priorities and educating our children should come before $4 million a year more for legislator office space," said Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage).
“With billion dollar deficits, how can we justify a 500% increase in rent for legislative offices? Installing glass elevators and heated parking ramps while asking Alaskans to do more with less is unacceptable. On top of the misplaced priorities, it appears we may have gotten a bad deal for the new office space,” said Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage).
The bill would require a legislative agency to solicit public comment from Alaskans across the state, for no less than 30 days, for sole source procurements of procurement of legislative office space that will add a cost of a quarter-million dollars or more over the term of the lease.
Requiring public comment will enable Alaskans to review whether spending on legislative office space is responsible, and, relevant to the 2013 expansion, whether the lease or purchase is in an amount that exceeds the market rate. The 2013 lease, according to many, increased the Anchorage Legislative Office Space by as much as $4 million/year, when utilities and taxes are counted. That contract was signed by the chairperson of Legislative Council. The current lease cost went from $680,000 a year to roughly $5 million a year when utilities and taxes are calculated in.
Read more on the deal for the new Anchorage LIO here:
Current statute allows for the chairperson of Legislative Council, with permission from the Council, to enter into sole source contractual arrangements. In 2013, at the direction of the chairman of Council, the legislature entered into a binding contract that called for the remodel and expansion of the legislative office building in Anchorage. The new arrangement led to rent increases from approximately $56,000 per month to over $280,000 per month. The Council had given the Chair the authority to enter a deal at or below, but not above market rate rent.
“The legislature will be spending over ten years twenty-five or more million dollars than they would have to for a brand new, better building. That is how egregious this lease is,” stated Larry Norene, an Anchorage commercial real estate broker.
“This legislation will safeguard against excessive future legislative spending on Legislative office space, which, given the state’s fiscal condition, ranks well below much higher state priorities," said Representative Gara.
For more information contact Senator Wielechowski at (907) 465-2435, Representative Gara at (907) 465-2647, or Larry Norene at (907) 229-1737.