Parnell says Ketchikan's school lawsuit might cost the borough its capital funds

Richard Mauer
Bob Hallinen

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sean Parnell's warning that he might shut off Ketchikan's access to state construction funds in retaliation for its lawsuit challenging state education funding reverberated Friday as a kind of "Chris Christie" moment.

"Parnell has chosen the wrong time, the wrong issue, and the wrong people to show himself as a bulldog," said Bill Walker, the Anchorage attorney seeking to unseat him as an independent.

Parnell was in Ketchikan Thursday and gave interviews to the public radio station, KRBD, and the Ketchikan Daily News. In a barely veiled threat, he told both that the Ketchikan borough's lawsuit could have "unintended consequences" with both him and the Legislature when it came time to dealing with Ketchikan's capital projects

"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," the Ketchikan Daily News reported.

"When Ketchikan asks for money, but yet the state may be on the hook in the lawsuit for more money, there's kind of a reluctance, or reticence, to step forward for other projects," he told KRBD.

Democrats were quick to pass around copies of the Ketchikan Daily News article Friday morning. Parnell, dubbed "Captain Zero" by Rep. Don Young when Parnell tried to take away his congressional seat in the 2008 Republican primary, has not been known as a bare-knuckles fighter.

The Ketchikan Borough sued the state in January, arguing it was unfair for state law to require urban school districts like theirs, Anchorage's and others, to use local taxes to help pay for their schools, while some Bush schools are entirely state funded. The Fairbanks school district is considering joining the suit.

If the lawsuit succeeds, urban schools would need a huge increase in state funding to maintain their current programs.

"With that uncertainty out there for the lawsuit, it's a pretty tough sell to legislators to go ask for hydro projects," Parnell told the Ketchikan newspaper. "It may seem unconnected because it's a school-district thing and it's a local property-tax thing, but it call comes from the same pocket -- the state's pocket."

Walker, trying to shake his own image as a one-subject candidate -- he's pushed for a gas line for decades and opposed oil-tax reductions last year, but isn't known for much else -- leaped on Parnell's comments.

"As an advocate for municipal government for over 30 years, I was shocked today to learn that Governor Parnell has threatened capital funding to Ketchikan as a result of Ketchikan standing up for its right to file suit against the State over the issue of education funding," he said in a statement sent to reporters. "We need a governor who knows when to go to battle and who he should be fighting for. The governor's comments yesterday are a blatant, public attack on local government."

Parnell himself appeared to back off his statement Friday. His spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said he wasn't available for an interview Friday afternoon, but she said he called the Associated Press Friday morning. The AP reported that Parnell clarified his remarks by saying he hadn't been threatening the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

Parnell said he believed that anyone can make a constitutional challenge if they feel aggrieved.

"What I was commenting on was what I'm hearing from legislators and the lens, as I said, that requests get filtered through at this point," he told the AP. Declining to name those legislators, he added, "To pretend like it doesn't exist would not be honest, either."

Reach Richard Mauer at or (907) 500-7388.

Correction: this story was updated to reflect a correction that some Bush schools are partially funded by local taxes.


KRBD radio: Parnell warns of lawsuit repercussions
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