Senate approves measure to give Legislature power to freeze hiring

Posted: Tuesday, April 09, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Senate Republicans approved a measure on Monday that would allow the Legislature to impose a hiring freeze, a power now reserved for Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles.

The Senate voted 14-5 along party lines to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot giving the Legislature the power to restrict hiring.

The measure still must be approved in the House.

It was sponsored by Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, who earlier backed a nonbinding resolution urging Knowles to impose such a hiring freeze this year. That passed the Senate on a party-line vote in March.

Alaska faces a budget deficit projected to reach $1.1 billion by next fiscal year.

Kelly said the Knowles administration -- which earlier this year proposed reinstating an income tax in Alaska -- has not responded to the budget woes.

''What do you do when you have an executive branch that simply won't act to manage the financial or fiscal problem? You have to go to the constitution and you have to give that power to the people,'' Kelly said.

If the constitutional amendment were approved by voters, it would not affect the Knowles administration. Knowles leaves office in December after two terms and cannot seek a third consecutive term.

But a future governor would be compelled to freeze state hiring if the Legislature approves a measure directing such a move.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said the measure would entrust too much power in the Alaska Legislature and ''hamstring'' future governors.

Elton said no other state legislature has the power to impose a hiring freeze and Congress also does not have the power to enact such a measure.

''What is it that even remotely suggests that Alaska's Legislature deserves the power that no other American legislature has?'' Elton said.

Elton voted against the measure along with Sens. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage; Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage; Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel; and Donny Olson, D-Nome. Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, was absent.

The measure could come before the Senate for reconsideration before going to the House.

Also approved in the Senate on Monday is a proposed constitutional amendment to require the governor to submit a priority list of items within a budget.

Senate budget leaders say such a measure would make it easier to make cuts in state spending. That measure passed 14-4 along party lines.

The hiring freeze measure is Senate Joint Resolution 37. The budget priority measure is Senate Joint Resolution 38.

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