To move or not to move the state capital--that's the question Alaskans have been debating, voting on, and changing their minds about for years.
This November they'll vote on it once again, for the sixth time since the issue was first raised 22 years ago. Surprisingly, considering how long the move has lurked on the state's political horizon, it's as hotly debated today as it ever was.
On the surface, it's a straightforward matter. Should the capital be moved from Juneau, a small town tucked away in the faraway southeast corner of the state, and rebuilt--literally from the ground up--in Willow, an even smaller town (pop. 38) just 70 miles north of the state's main city, Anchorage?
After turning down capital-move proposals in 1960 and 1962, voters OK'ed a move in 1974. By 1976, they'd picked Willow as the future state seat. In 1978, however, they turned down a $966 million bond issue to finance the state's share of the transfer cost. At the same time they passed an initiative requiring voter approval of all bondable costs before one penny could be spent.
This year voters may finally settle The Great Move Debate--at least for the present. A cost estimate of the capital transfer, now being figured, will appear on the November ballot. If voters approve the expense, the capital will be moved , with construction work to start in Willow by 1988. If turned down, the capital stays put and the 1974 initiative authorizing a move becomes moot. The whole debate could start all over again, however, if pro-move activists muster enough support for another initiative.
In many ways, the capital controversy is a peculiarly Alaskan affair. No other state in the country stretches across four time zones. Nor does any other state have the accessibility problems that are commonplace here in the vast, largely unpaved lands of the nation's largest state.
Accessible, capital move proponents argue, is precisely what Juneau is not. Set in a time zone two hours ahead of Anchorage, and reached from there only by a $296 airplane trip or an hours-long car-and-ferry ride, Juneau is out of touch with the rest of the state, they say.