Making the Same Mistake Twice

The Ghost of the Taj Mahawker (Photo Erik Hill/ADN)

The Ghost of the Taj Mahawker (Photo Erik Hill/ADN)

The uproar over the Taj Mahawker – the Legislature’s palatial, overpriced, legally dubious former quarters in Anchorage – contributed to the outcome of both the primary and general election. The voters were unwilling to part with half of their permanent fund dividend and give their legislators Trump-like office space. That same sentiment may have contributed to the Musk Ox Revolt, the coalition of Democrats and less conservative Republicans now controlling the state house.

You’d think that such a cautionary tale would make the legislators hesitant to pimp out their new quarters in the old Alaska Mutual Bank building.

You’d be wrong.

The Legislative Council has a Request for Proposals on the digital street, seeking all manner of upgrades, improvements and renovations. How much money? That will depend on the responses to the Legislative Council’s RFP. But given their track record with vendors, you can bet there will be a surcharge for the risk of doing business with the Legislature. Senator Gary Stevens didn’t have an estimate; he was on vacation.

Remember the Legislature just paid $11.8 million for the building. The voters were told the State could move in with little additional work. But here we are.

Don’t forget there’s still a multi-million dollar lawsuit out there, with the owners of the Taj Mahawker trying to recover their losses. Yes, their hands are at least as dirty as former Senator Mike Hawker’s but someone is going to get to pay to defend that lawsuit, with the risk that the courts won’t let the State bail on a defense of illegality, when the Legislative Council – and Senator Hawker, in particular – were waist deep in the illegality. The “cost” of the new quarters will certainly be more than $11.8 million; we just don’t know how much more yet.

Pam Varni, the director of the Legislature’s nonpartisan support staff, pointed out that the state will be getting rent from Wells Fargo, the former owner, which still has  branch bank in the building. Sorry, Ms. Varni, Senator Stevens already “spent” that money by pointing out it offset the $11.8 million purchase price for the building. You don’t get to “spend” it again.

Concrete blocks and ripped sheets of plywood make adequate book shelves. Used desks are available from army surplus. The interior stairway you want removed can wait. The electrical system has worked perfectly well for any number of tenants. The HVAC system was rebuilt as recently as 2013.

In terms of the Legislature’s real priorities – details like balancing the budget and saving critical state systems like the University – fancy, renovated quarters shouldn’t even make the list.

Which is why WC thinks the Legislative is making the same mistake again.