JUNEAU — A lawsuit filed by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough over Alaska’s education funding has prompted a House bill seeking to repeal the required local contribution.
The House Education Committee heard the first reading of the bill sponsored by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. Another hearing is scheduled later this week.
The state requires all organized boroughs to provide a certain level of the property taxes collected to local school districts. Some see that as unconstitutional and say it goes against promises made by the state not to penalize areas of the state forced to incorporate.
The state picked up the entire cost of education in the early 1980s when Alaska was flush with oil money, Wilson said. But beginning in 1986, when oil fell to $9 a barrel, it began requiring the organized boroughs and municipalities to contribute.
“The state made a promise they didn’t keep,” Wilson told the committee, adding the state constitution requires Alaska to provide adequate funding for education, not boroughs and municipalities. She said it was unfair for those boroughs and municipalities to carry such a burden while other unincorporated areas do not.
Her bill echoes the arguments laid out in the Ketchikan lawsuit filed last month.
“For 34 education districts, it has created a crushing funding burden while some of the 19 other districts are actually some of the state’s most prosperous,” Ketchikan Gateway Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst said to the committee.
Bockhorst said Ketchikan’s lawsuit is based on the borough’s belief that required local contributions violate three articles of the Alaska constitution.
“This Ketchikan lawsuit may prevail,” said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, told the committee.
Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said if the bill passes, it may force the state to spend an additional $200 million on education, a figure he does not see the state providing.
“Where is this money coming from?” asked Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage. “This is going to be hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Wilson said her bill was focusing on a constitutional issue, not one concerning the state budget.