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Senate, House, governor continue to debate capital spending

AG questions constitutionality of contingency language

Posted: April 26, 2011 - 9:37pm

Gov. Sean Parnell and legislators continued to jockey for public support in their deadlocked battle over spending, oil taxes and threatened vetoes.

Senators took to the Senate Floor Tuesday to defend their positions, with Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, saying there was legal foundation for the Senate’s strategy aimed at fending off potential Parnell vetoes.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, challenged the claim from House Republican leaders the projects the Senate was proposing to spend money on had not been adequately vetted, or in some cases not even sought by anyone.

French said it all began with Parnell playing politics with the budget.

“The politics started with the governor’s proposed oil tax bill and his threat to veto capital projects if the reduction in oil taxes did not pass,” French said.

French said he acknowledged that the Senate was using “contingency” language in the state budget to try to limit the governor’s power. That’s not a new goal for legislators, he said.

The Senate Finance Committee in 1997 wrote a budget with conditional language similar to the language at issue this year that wound up before the Alaska Supreme Court, and was upheld, he said.

Parnell, then a senator, was a member of that committee, French said. Two years later Parnell was co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and said “I would never waive the Legislature’s rights to include conditional language in an appropriations bill,” according to French.

Late Tuesday Attorney General John Burns issued a legal opinion challenging French’s analysis.

Burns acknowledged Alaska’s governor did not have the power under his line-item veto power to strike contingency language from the budget, but said it remained unconstitutional.

That puts every project listed in that section at risk of court challenges even without a veto, Burns said.

“I’m sure the Department of Law is concerned very deeply about what we’re doing here,” French said. “I’m thinking they know we are on to something,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, agreed with Parnell the Senate Majority was infringing on the executive branch’s constitutional powers when it tried to limit the line-item veto.

While there has been little action in public meetings, House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, has called a press conference for the House Majority to give its side of the stalemate Wednesday morning.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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