A conflict is building between state lawmakers over an Anchorage building's furniture budget, which so far has proved a single point: one legislative office's trash is another legislative office's treasure.
Several Anchorage legislators are sharply divided over exactly what amount of spending is appropriate for the furniture used in the Legislative Information Office building. The building, now undergoing renovations, houses many lawmakers' Anchorage offices and is also used for public hearings.
Since November of 2013, lawmakers and their staff members have been working in small offices in a building across the street from the LIO's location at 716 W. 4th Ave.
Work on the LIO's reconstruction is on track to be completed by December, and on budget, said Amy Slinker of Pfeffer Development.
With the benefits of renovation, covered by Pfeffer, comes a higher price tag: rent at the new LIO will cost $280,000 a month -- four times what the state paid in previous years.
On Wednesday, the public tab got a bit higher.
A bipartisan group of 12 lawmakers, the Legislative Council, voted on the final furniture budget. On a 10-2 vote, the council approved spending up to $500,000.
The figure comes as a surprise to some Anchorage residents.
“It’s horrible,” said Alexandra Phillips, a Turnagain resident. “That's quite a bit of money for furniture.”
“That seems a bit excessive,” said Adam Looney, another Alaskan.
Rep. Mike Hawker, who heads up the legislative council, said $500,000 is “a very, very tight number” for furnishing both the LIO's open sections and its 37 legislative offices.
“We needed to provide the furnishings that are needed for public space areas -- hearing rooms, meeting rooms, as well as audio-visual technology conducted in those rooms,” Hawker said.
Reps. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak) and Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage) both voted no.
“I had a recommendation of $100,000,” said Stoltze, who heads up the council’s furniture subcommittee.
“Whether it’s $100,000 or $500,000, it’s the principle,” Gruenberg said.
Before the final decision was made, Stoltze and his staff took stock of the furniture the state already has: about a thousand pieces, including mahogany tables, leather couches and mahogany file cabinets. Most of the inventory, Stoltze said, could be used for at least 20 more years.
“I come from a family of 10 kids,” he said. “We just don't throw things away.”
As Anchorage lawmakers and their staff members moved out of the Downtown building before construction began, they marked which pieces of furniture to take, store and throw away.
Legislative staffers in the Valley got word that dozens of good chairs were marked for the landfill, so they claimed them for use in Wasilla.
What Anchorage legislative staffers considered trash is now the Mat-Su’s treasure.
“There is furniture out at the Mat-Su LIO that was destined for the Dumpster,” Stoltze said. “Staff there says they're the best furniture we've ever had there.”
Stoltze shared with Channel 2 photos he took of the reclaimed chairs that now sit in the Mat-Su LIO.
“I just have different value judgments than some of the people making decisions,” Stoltze said.
Hawker confirmed some existing furniture will be used for the new LIO, though the list has not been finalized. He said the half-million dollar budget will go a long way in furnishing the renovated and expanded building now and into the future.
But not all constituents agree the money is being well spent.
“There's so much more we could use that money for,” said Ivan Parker-Diaz, who lives and works in Downtown Anchorage. “You name it -- schools, roads, better facilities for the homeless or hospitals.”
That same debate is what fueled the two ‘no’ votes on the council.
“Right now, we have real unmet needs in this state -- public health needs, education needs, public safety, transportation,” Gruenberg said. “This was just the wrong thing to do at the wrong time.”
Come December, Alaskans will be able to see for themselves whether the furniture budget was lavish or lean.