Speaker’s Chamber

Historical Self-Guided Tour Location #2

Text-only: You’ve reached the second stop on our historical self-guided audio tour of the Alaska capitol.  Please do not enter the Speaker’s Chamber.  This room is private office space.  You may step into the entry way as far as signage indicates to view the chamber. 
Prior to construction being completed in 1931, the territorial legislature met a few blocks down the hill in what was then the Elks Hall. With completion, the 10th territorial legislature moved in. 
This room and the office adjoining each side comprised the original Senate Chamber.  The floor was filled with 20 small wooden desks and chairs, with each having its own spittoons and waste basket.  With other federal and territorial offices occupying the building, there was no room for legislators to have personal office space. They worked all day from the same desks they sat at during floor sessions.  At the time, Legislators were not assigned staff to assist them- but this was a time before office phones and email.  The Senate President and clerks sat a raised platform at the front of the room that was significantly taller than the one before you. 
After renovations allowed the Senate chamber to move to the west wing, the Speaker of the House moved in.  Restoration in 1979 returned this room to its original look, including the hand stenciled paintings on the ceiling. The wall to the left was built to create a private chamber, and this larger room is now frequently used for private caucus meetings, small ceremonies, and press conferences.  
Behind the dais, you’ll notice a large wooden State Seal.  The rays above the mountains represent the Alaskan northern lights, or the aurora borealis. The smelter symbolizes mining, while the train and ships highlight Alaska’s rail and marine transportation. Trees, the farmer and sea life represent the timber, agricultural, and fishing industries- all significant contributors to Alaska’s economy. 

Missing are examples of Alaska’s highways or air transportation network.  Also missing is the oil and gas industry as well as tourism.  All of these have developed considerably since the Seal was designed in 1910. Oil was not discovered on Alaska’s North Slope until March 13th, 1968.  Less than a decade later, oil begin flowing down the just-completed Trans-Alaska Pipeline on June 20, 1977.     

Fortunately for state finances, oil lease sales in 1969 generated nearly a billion dollars revenue. This allowed the legislature to address a large backlog of unmet needs throughout the state that included increasing demands for expanded government services, the prospect of rapid population growth related to pipeline construction and the oil industry establishment. Many state programs that are considered essential today were established with this large influx of revenue.   
The legislature also established the Legislative Information Offices, or LIOs. These offices were opened throughout the state and to this day facilitate live public participation in the legislative process from a constituent’s hometowns.  By 1980 revenues from oil were so large that the legislature repealed the state income tax.  Since then, there have been no taxes levied on Alaskans by the state. Municipalities may have sales and property tax, but the state does not. Recent budget troubles caused by decreased oil production and depressed oil prices have led to conversations about if Alaska should change its revenue structure.  
Next, let’s head over to the House Chamber to see where the House of Representatives meet to deliberate and consider legislation.  
Next: As your turn around, the corner of this hallway directly behind you is adorned with newspapers, art and other artifacts celebrating statehood in 1959.  From here, please proceed into one of the galleries for the House Chamber at the end of the short hall.