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Lawmakers Kill Cowper's School-Endowment Plan

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A proposal by Gov. Steve Cowper of Alaska to create a state endowment for schools failed last week in the last minutes of the legislative session.

The Alaska Senate voted 12 to 8 to put the plan on the November ballot, but that was two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed.

"The Governor was disappointed," said Terence O'Malley, a spokesman for Mr. Cowper. "He felt eight people prevented a quarter of a million people from deciding the issue."

The Governor proposed setting aside some of the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund for the education endowment. The Permanent Fund, worth more than $10 billion, was established in 1976 with revenue from the Prudhoe Bay oilfields.

Under Mr. Cowper's plan, some of the money used to make the Permanent Fund "inflation proof" would have been diverted to the schools endowment until the year 2000. At that point, the legislature could have used earnings from the fund on elementary and secondary schools.

The Governor's proposed constitutional amendment needed to be approved by a two-thirds majority of both legislative chambers before it could be placed on the ballot. The House passed the measure last year, during the first year of the state's two-year legislative session.

Mr. Cowper campaigned heavily for the fund late last year, hoping to create public pressure to force approval by the Senate.

But several senators argued that the proposal would have taken money out of their constituents' pockets, since the creation of the education fund would have slowed the growth of Permanent Fund dividends to Alaska citizens, which amounted to $873 per person last year.

Others doubted that it could win voter approval.

"I don't believe it's going to pass in November, and I don't want to send a constitutional amendment out to the public that I don't believe has a reasonable chance of passage," Senate President Tim Kelly of Anchorage told reporters recently.

The measure fell short on the Senate floor on May 8, after an amendment was successful in moving it out of a Senate committee where it had been bottled up for weeks.

The amendment would have allowed Alaskans to vote on whether to continue the education fund after four years of operation.

In this session, lawmakers also voted to give teachers the right to strike, approving a bill that would require teachers and school boards to engage in nonbinding arbitration before a strike could be called.

The law would expire in 1992 unless it was extended by the legislature.--mw

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