Gov. Tony Knowles vetoed a bill Thursday that would have let a private firm build a railroad to the eastern edge of Denali National Park. He also struck down a bill that would have put two legislators on an Anchorage transportation committee.
Knowles announced the vetoes after signing 30 bills into law this week. Knowles has until July 13 to act on 15 other bills, or they become law without his signature.
The Denali railroad bill that Knowles vetoed would have transferred 3,500 acres of state land to the Denali Borough. The borough was to provide an easement on the land for Kantishna Holdings to build a railroad from Healy to the park boundary. To continue the remaining 55 miles to Wonder Lake in the park, the company would need an easement from the National Park Service.
Knowles said he supports increased access to Denali, but he objected to House Bill 244. It would have given away state land without thorough public hearings, it wasn't consistent with state land use planning procedures, and it violated competitive bidding processes, he said.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican, said she pushed the bill out of frustration with the state's failure to grant a right-of-way to Kantishna Holdings. Competitive bids are not required on right-of-way requests, she said.
"I believe the Denali Park is under-utilized," James said. "I think we could get more people in."
The railroad would do that in a controlled way that doesn't harm the environment, James said.
She believes the Legislature will override the veto in January because the bill passed with more than the required two-thirds majority.
Knowles said this year's state budget includes $1.6 million to analyze northern access to the park. That study will ensure public involvement in the decision, he said.
Knowles spokesman Bob King said the administration received more than 2,000 electronic mail messages urging a veto of the bill, most of those identical messages from out of state. A number of Alaskans also spoke up, King said, including a resident of Healy who said the bill threatened the way of life there.
Knowles also vetoed Senate Bill 88, which would have put two legislators on the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Study Committee. The committee now includes the Anchorage mayor, two Anchorage Assembly members, and representatives of the state Transportation and Environmental Conservation departments.
Knowles said adding two legislators would have transformed a local planning process into one dominated by the state. He also questioned whether the new panel would meet federal requirements and whether it violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers and provisions against legislators holding dual offices.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Randy Phillips, an Eagle River Republican, said projects are being delayed under the current system, and legislators get the blame although they have no direct input. The bill did not pass the House with a wide enough margin to override a veto, and Phillips said he did not know whether the Legislature would attempt an override.
Among the bills Knowles signed into law this week are:
Senate Bill 105, sponsored by Senate President Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican. The new law sets up a state Office of Victims Rights and calls for the Department of Law to help collect restitution for crime victims.
House Bill 101, sponsored by Rep. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican. It expands the number of charter schools allowed to operate in Alaska from 30 to 60 and provides $500 per pupil in start-up grants.
Senate Bill 86, sponsored by Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican. It allows people without teaching certificates to teach in the public schools as long as they have a bachelor's degree and expertise in a subject and are enrolled in an education degree program.
House Bill 115, sponsored by Rep. Mary Kapsner, a Bethel Democrat. The bill lets a physician assistant or advanced nurse practitioner sign a certificate in support of involuntarily committing a person to treatment for intoxication. Previously, physicians were the only medical workers who could sign the certificates. Many parts of rural Alaska have no physicians.
Senate Bill 72, which requires the Board of Game to establish special hunting seasons before the school year starts for children to participate in with a parent or guardian.