Mandatory borough bill passes Senate, but may stall in the House

Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The state Senate has passed a bill that could eventually force some unorganized communities into boroughs.

Senate Bill 48 faces a bleak future in the House, though, where Rep. Carl Morgan, R-Aniak, plans to bury it in the Community and Regional Affairs Committee he co-chairs.

The bill calls for the Department of Community and Economic Development to make a list each year of areas that satisfy the state's standards for incorporation or annexation. The standards include a look at whether an area has the resources to provide municipal services.

The Local Boundary Commission would then select areas from that list, hold hearings there and decide whether they should incorporate. If the Legislature agreed with those recommendations, the areas would be forced into boroughs.

Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, sponsored the bill. He said unincorporated parts of the state that have a sufficient economic base should organize and pay taxes to support their school.

''This is not a punitive bill, it's not a predatory bill,'' Wilken said on the Senate floor Monday. ''This is a bill that says, 'Can you help?'''

The state demands a local school contribution from the citizens of organized boroughs, Wilken said, but about $124 million in state school funds annually go to the unorganized rural areas, with no local match required.

Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, argued that rural Alaskans already contribute large amounts of money to urban areas and should not be forced into boroughs against their will.

''I just find it ironic that (Wilken) says it will bring government closer to the dinner table,'' Lincoln said. ''This bill takes the vote, the right of self-determination, away from those sitting at that very dinner table.''

Lincoln said rather than, ''Can you help?'' the question should be what the state can do to help strengthen the economies of rural Alaska.

The bill passed the Senate 11-9. It now moves to the House, and Morgan said he expects the bill will be referred to the Community and Regional Affairs Committee. He doesn't intend to move it from there.

''All my constituents in District 36 -- I'm hearing them real loud and clear -- they're all against it,'' Morgan said. ''The only way I could let it out of my committee is to commit political suicide.''

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