Statehood defense money deleted from supplemental budget

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Money aimed at defending Alaska's statehood rights against the federal government was pulled from a supplemental spending bill Thursday after Attorney General Bruce Botelho said he never asked for the politically controversial funding.

The proposed appropriations angered Alaska Native lawmakers who saw the money as part of Gov. Tony Knowles' controversial appeal of a landmark subsistence fishing lawsuit.

The Republican lawmaker who originally put the money into the budget fumed, saying the Democratic administration sought the funding, then denied it to avoid backlash.

''They wanted the money but didn't want to take responsibility for asking,'' said Sen. Sean Parnell, R-Anchorage, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Parnell said he was led to believe that Botelho requested the money.

Parnell included $900,000 in the supplemental budget passed by the Senate last week -- $500,000 for the Department of Law and $400,000 for the Legislative Council, the committee that brings lawsuits on the Legislature's behalf. The money was not included in a different version of the bill passed earlier by the House.

The House Finance Committee removed the money Thursday with Parnell's blessing.

The panel also restored funding for the subsidies the state pays to offset high electrical rates in the Bush and for plowing open rural roads in the spring.

Botelho said the department never asked for the $500,000, and does not need it. Botelho said the department had been lobbied by legislative staffers concerned about the state's resources for such cases.

''We have enough money to do the things that are currently under way,'' Botelho said. ''The overall judgment of the administration is that none of the money is needed right now.''

Native leaders in the Legislature had attacked the Senate appropriation, particularly the $400,000 for the Legislative Council. Many Natives oppose challenging the landmark case that allowed the federal government to take control of subsistence fishing in Alaska in October to assure a priority for rural residents.

''It was a slush fund trying to hurt us with the issue of the Katie John case,'' said Sen. Al Adams, D-Kotzebue. ''We didn't feel that was necessary.''

GOP leaders deny the money was intended to push the Katie John case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they hope the justices will overturn the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that spawned years of legal and legislative battles over subsistence fishing rights.

Instead, they said the money could be used for a variety of other sovereignty issues, such as snowmachine access in Denali National Park and a possible road-building ban in the Tongass National Park.

House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder said those issues are still important, but supported removing the money from the budget to smooth ruffled feelings.

''It's really pointless to do this finger-pointing back and forth about who wanted it and who didn't,'' said Mulder, R-Anchorage. ''The issue is being confused with other issues that are at hand, namely Katie John.''

The panel also restored two other major items to the supplemental budget that had been stripped by the Senate.

The first was a provision to use an $8 million payment from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to pay rural power subsidies for the remainder of the current fiscal year. The Senate had reduced that amount to $3.6 million, enough to get the program through mid-May.

The House also restored $248,900 to plow open several rural roads in the spring, including the Taylor Highway, the Denali Highway, and several roads around Nome. The roads are used for tourism and mining.

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