Gov. Sean Parnell’s candid comments Thursday about the potential repercussions of Ketchikan’s lawsuit against the state drew some response.
Sen. Bert Stedman listened to the interview on KRBD’s website Friday, and said he believes it’s the right of every citizen to petition the government.
“As a young state, there are areas of our Constitution that need to be fleshed out a little more through the courts,” he said.
Stedman added that he didn’t believe there will be any backlash against Ketchikan in the Legislature. He notes that a House bill submitted by North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson would do what the Ketchikan lawsuit is asking for, and he doesn’t think North Pole will be discriminated against, either.
Ketchikan’s lawsuit challenges the state over what the borough says is an unfair mandate requiring boroughs and first-class cities to fund a minimum level for local schools. Many communities outside of organized boroughs don’t have to make that contribution.
Rep. Peggy Wilson of Wrangell also listened to the governor’s interview with KRBD, and said that while she hasn’t seen evidence yet of repercussions from the lawsuit, she shares Parnell’s concern.
“Those are sentiments that we all realize happen in the Legislature,” she said. “We don’t usually verbalize them out loud. But I did comment to the Borough Assembly that that was a concern I had. I have no idea whether it will happen or not. But at the end of session, a lot of bills get held hostage.”
Wilson said you never know what reason another legislator might have to stop a measure from passing.
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst responded that the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly considered options for more than six years, and lobbied for a legislative solution before deciding to move forward with its lawsuit.
“There have been multiple meetings between borough officials and for example, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, as well as other officials of the Parnell administration and others,” he said. “We ultimately came to a point where there was no resolution, so the Assembly carefully and deliberately decided to pursue litigation.”
Assembly Member Agnes Moran, speaking for herself and not for the Assembly, said it would be unfortunate if there were repercussions. She said the lawsuit is the borough’s legal right, and Ketchikan isn’t the first municipality to sue the state.
Moran noted that the point of the lawsuit is not to avoid paying for schools; it’s to find a solution that’s fair to everyone. She said she was surprised to hear Parnell’s comments.
“They were pretty harsh comments,” she said. “I think they came off harder than he intended, and I think there will be a common ground at some point.”
Moran noted that if the community wasn’t obligated to pay a certain amount for local schools, Ketchikan wouldn’t need as much help with capital projects.