Parnell warns of retaliation against Ketchikan
KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) — Gov. Sean Parnell said Ketchikan could be punished when capital appropriations are determined after the borough sued the state over school funding.
"I do want to address this issue of how the lawsuit is viewed by legislators and by me because it does shade or color the reaction to Ketchikan requests," Parnell told the Ketchikan Daily News on Thursday. "It's an inevitable consequence that if Ketchikan is the driving force behind a lawsuit that could result in more financial exposure to the state, legislators and I view requests from Ketchikan through that lens."
The borough has sued the state, seeking to strike the required local contributions to school districts. The district has said incorporated areas of the state are being punished for incorporating, while unincorporated areas do not have to contribute money to their local schools.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, has filed a bill that would repeal the required local contribution. Critics have claimed it would cost the state $200 million to make up the difference.
"With that uncertainty out there of the lawsuit, it's a pretty tough sell to legislators to go ask for hydro projects and to go ask for — it may seem unconnected because it's a school district thing and it's a local property tax thing, but it all comes from the same pocket: the state's pocket," Parnell told the newspaper. "It just really made it easy for legislators to say no to Ketchikan's projects."
The top priority for state funding from Ketchikan this year is the Swan Lake Dam. The Southeast Alaska Power Agency, which owns the hydroelectric project, wants to raise it by 6 feet. That would cost $12.3 million, and the increased water storage would make more power available to Ketchikan within two years.
The demand for electricity is increasing in Ketchikan, and is expected to exceed hydro generation this decade.
The intent is also to use electricity from Swan Lake to offer cheaper rates to the company proposing the Niblack Mine on Prince of Wales Island.
The threat of retaliation wasn't lost on some assembly members when making the decision to file the lawsuit, and Parnell said he and some lawmakers don't distinguish between city and borough governments.
Borough Assembly member Agnes Moran, one of the plaintiffs, said Parnell's comments were "very disappointing."
"It's a constitutional issue," she said. "They have a responsibility to fund education; they don't necessarily have a requirement to fund capital projects."
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst declined comment, but did point a reporter to an October correspondence with David Scott, a legislative aide to state Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin.
In it, Scott said he believed Ketchikan would suffer in the Legislature if the lawsuit was filed.
Bockhorst replied the plaintiffs "will be exercising their lawful right to challenge constitutional infirmities with regard to the manner in which education is funded in Alaska."
He also noted there are state and federal laws that protect people who speak out on public issues. He added that to discriminate or threaten Ketchikan for filing the lawsuit "would be inconsistent with this federal and state policy."
Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com
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