Alaska lawmakers approve $500,000 furniture budget

ANCHORAGE — An Alaska state House-Senate committee has approved a $500,000 budget for new furniture at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office that is being remodeled, but lawmakers themselves will make do with old furniture from storage and state surplus when they move in next year.
The budget approved Monday by the Legislative Council is for new furnishings in public spaces, hearing rooms and staff offices at the leased downtown building, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The council also decided Monday to take the high bid to purchase and install visual and audio systems there. Winning the bid was Chariot Group Inc., which bid more than $343,000, compared to low bidder Pyramid Audio Video, at nearly $291,000.
Legislative Affairs Agency Director Pam Varni said Chariot reached a higher overall score in a bid review.
By using existing furniture, the Legislature won’t have to spend an estimated $900,000 for furniture suggested in a $65,000 bid-preparation.
The amount approved, however, is $400,000 higher than a special furniture subcommittee of the Legislative Council recommended.
The $44 million remodel was launched after Legislative Council Chairman Rep. Mike Hawker, an Anchorage Republican, signed a no-bid, 10-year lease extension.
Hawker’s Democratic opponent Sam Combs called the furniture purchase an example of fiscal mismanagement by Hawker and the legislative majority.
“How on earth can he justify spending a half-million on furniture — a 500 percent increase — while the state is in deficit spending and Anchorage teachers are being laid off?” he said.
Hawker said lawmakers were being smart with money by adding modular furniture for staffers of legislators.
That way, he said, as legislators move up in seniority and get better offices, their staff won’t have to move their old furniture into the new space, which will save on labor, as well as wear and tear.
During Monday’s meeting, Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens noted the cost was about $100,000 for just five legislative offices furnished in Eagle River.
The overhauled Anchorage building will house 21 legislators plus staff for four leadership offices and additional nonpartisan staff who work in ethics and technology, Hawker said.
Contrasting that to more than $21,000 per Eagle River Office,  Hawker said it breaks down to about $8,000 for each Anchorage office.
According to Hawker, the Senate president and House speaker will be in charge of their own furniture selections.

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