Wasilla Middle School special session could top $1M amid logistical concerns

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WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - A second 30-day special session at Wasilla Middle School could cost the State of Alaska over $1 million amid logistical concerns over how it’s organized, according to the Legislative Affairs Agency.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said that a new venue for the Legislature may be required if lawmakers are unable to pass an operating budget and decide on a Permanent Fund dividend figure by the end of a special session on June 14.

“We’ve said sometimes the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, maybe a different venue will get different results,” he said Thursday evening.

His administration has floated the idea of holding another special session in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and staff members have visited Wasilla Middle School as a potential venue.

Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said while she is sure Wasilla Middle School is a fantastic venue, “middle schools were not created for governing bodies to meet.”

She questioned the cost of transporting lawmakers and support staff to Wasilla and said it was her preference to keep a potential second special session in Juneau.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, is in agreement and spoke about the difficulties of moving infrastructure out to the Mat-Su Valley. “The House majority coalition feels that to move all of that to Wasilla would not only be extremely expensive but also take time and be far less productive than getting our work done here in the State Capitol,” he said.

The Legislature has the option of gaveling into a session, immediately gaveling out and then moving to another location. “That could be a possibility, yes,” said Edgmon.

Giessel was more circumspect about that option saying, “It would be a profound waste of money” to go to Wasilla and then immediately leave. She would not be drawn into whether that would be an option the Senate might take.

Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, said complaints by the Legislature were all a tactic to avoid coming to the Mat-Su Valley and that questions about cost were a distraction.

Shuckerow said the school is an “adequate location” to host the Legislature and dismissed concerns some lawmakers had expressed about security and existing infrastructure.

“If it’s good enough for our kids and our teachers, then it’s certainly adequate for our Legislature,” he said, before explaining that the venue would be free to use apart from custodial fees.

The governor’s office has been working with the borough and the school district to ensure that the school could host a special session. Shuckerow said classrooms, multi-purpose rooms and gymnasiums could be used by the Legislature.

A member of the governor’s team toured the middle school on May 21 and the district determined it was an adequate venue for a special session, said a staff member who works in the superintendent’s office.

Despite the venue being free to use, the additional costs of a special session would be significant, said Jessica Geary, the executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency.

The agency released an estimate to lawmakers on costs of holding a 30-day special session in Wasilla in May. Geary said an analysis had not been done on the specific costs at the middle school but that it could “absolutely” be upward of $1 million.

Logistical concerns are also pressing for Geary, upwards of 33 support staff members would be needed to travel to Wasilla to ensure the session ran smoothly. She described there would be questions about who would guard the school, where staff members would stay and how meetings would be recorded.

The concern is that if floor sessions and committee meetings weren’t recorded adequately that there would be a gap in the historical record of the Legislature. Giessel said maintaining a historical record was vital for the Legislature as hearings were often listened to by future legislatures and even used in court.

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