Governor says no to bill giving university land

Legislature to sue over bill intended to provide university funds

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2000

FAIRBANKS -- Citing the opinion of his attorney general, Gov. Tony Knowles told the University of Alaska Board of Regents he will not implement a quarter-million-acre land grant the Legislature approved over his veto in April.

Sen. Mike Miller said Wednesday the Republican-led Legislature will sue the governor.

Miller, a North Pole Republican, chairs the Legislative Council, which handles legislative matters when the Legislature is not in session.

The two sides are at odds about whether the Legislature needed 40 votes or 45 votes to override Knowles' veto of Senate Bill 7.

Lawmakers need 40 votes -- a two-thirds majority -- to overturn most vetoes. They voted 41-19 on April 21 to overturn the veto on the university lands bill.

But in a letter to regent Chairman Mike Burns, Knowles said Attorney General Bruce Botelho clearly concludes the Legislature needed 45 votes -- a three-fourths majority -- because the bill is an appropriations measure.

``We will fight that,'' Miller said. ``We will sue because we think he's really stretching the appropriations argument. And he based it on the attorney general's opinion, when the attorney general is his employee,'' Miller told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, would give the university system 250,000 acres of state land to develop as a revenue source over time. The university currently has 112,000 acres in its land endowment -- second smallest among land grant universities.

Knowles bitterly opposed the bill and vetoed similar measures twice in previous years. He said the bill was an inefficient and unsuccessful way to secure reliable funding for the university that would complicate state management, contribute to significant land use conflicts and lead to years of litigation.

The bill was a major lobbying target of Alaska Conservation Voters, which contends the university would choose land that could be developed at the expense of environmental concerns.

The latest version had safeguards that proponents hoped would ease those fears. The Department of Natural Resources commissioner would have the authority to block any selection deemed not in the state's best interests. Municipalities could veto any university selections within their boundaries.

Miller and Taylor said the bill is not an appropriation because the Legislature and the administration would have to approve land the university chooses.

``The only reason we're going to litigation is because Tony Knowles can't read the constitution,'' Taylor said. ``He's got an attorney general that will say `black is white' if the governor tells him to.''

Miller said the case could reach the Alaska Supreme Court in about a year.

Burns said the regents and university now would try to package some lands for consideration during the next session. The university likely would leave litigation to the politicians, he said.

``We are going to try to move ahead in a constructive fashion rather than a litigious fashion,'' Burns said.

``We think from the university's viewpoint that if we could accomplish an agreed-upon package, it could bring value to the university almost decades faster than any kind of litigated, protracted (process),'' he said.

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