Sponsors of a proposed ballot initiative to limit the Legislature's ability to use the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for government are suing the state and Lt. Gov. Loren Leman for not certifying their petition.
The lawsuit was filed last week in Anchorage Superior Court.
The proposed initiative by the Anchorage-based group Alaskans for Efficient Government would require a vote of the people before the state could use the earnings of the permanent fund, the state's oil-wealth savings account. A public vote also would be required for the Legislature to change the way dividend checks are calculated.
Leman and the Department of Law determined the proposal stepped outside the legal bounds of the initiative process.
A review of the initiative application by the state Department of Law in late January advised Leman to reject the proposal, stating it "violates the restriction against using the initiative (process) to dedicate revenue."
The Department of Law also said that by giving the electorate the power of enacting appropriations the initiative would amend procedures established by the Alaska Constitution.
"An initiative cannot be used to amend or revise the Alaska Constitution," Leman said in a letter to Uwe Kalenka, president of Alaskans for Efficient Government. "Additionally, the Department of Law advises that your proposal would establish additional requirements for enactment of an appropriations bill ... ."
Leman said although his "heart is with the people that want to protect and defend the permanent fund," he took an oath of office to uphold the law.
"I don't have much choice but to follow the law and follow the constitution," Leman said.
Kalenka said the initiative would not create an appropriation, but did not go into detail on how the group will argue that point in court. He said both Republicans and Democrats would like to dip into the permanent fund to pay for government.
"If there is no statute in place (to protect the fund) it is only a question of time," Kalenka said. "It is absolutely imperative that we follow through with the petition to protect the public's and the voters' interests."
Kalenka's group is the same organization that backed a 2002 initiative to move legislative sessions to Anchorage or the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The measure failed at the polls.
Former Gov. Jay Hammond, who is widely known as the father of the permanent fund, has signed on as a sponsor of the proposed initiative.
Hammond was unable to give an assessment of the legality of the proposal but noted Reps. Eric Croft and Harry Crawford, both Anchorage Democrats, have filed a resolution that proposes to change the state constitution to allow a vote of the people before using permanent fund earnings. House Joint Resolution 3 would require 60 percent of the electorate to approve government use of the fund.
Any plan to change the state constitution would require approval from two-thirds of the members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. A constitutional amendment also would need approval from the voters in the next general election.
Hammond said while many politicians "pay lip service" to protecting the permanent fund, many would not want to be confronted with voting on the resolution.
"I think it would be really interesting to see where they really stand on the issue," Hammond said, noting that during last fall's campaign Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fran Ulmer and Republican Frank Murkowski supported taking any use of the permanent fund to a vote of the people.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org