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Lawmakers vote to sue over university lands veto

Posted: Thursday, June 29, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Legislative Council voted unanimously Wednesday to sue Gov. Tony Knowles for refusing to implement a bill granting the University of Alaska 250,000 acres of state land.

Lawmakers contend they overrode Knowles' veto, while he argues the measure is an appropriation that must be overridden by a larger supermajority.

The council, which acts for the Legislature when lawmakers are not in session, views the dispute as a battle over the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Lawmakers voted 41-19 on April 21 to veto the bill.

Knowles argues that wasn't enough because the constitution requires a three-fourths majority -- or 45 votes -- to override vetoes of bills that appropriate money.

''Governor Knowles' action circumvents the balance of power that exists between the executive and legislative branches of state government,'' said Sen. Mike Miller, R-North Pole, the panel's chairman. ''He basically tried for a second bite of the veto apple by attempting to characterize this legislation as an appropriation -- a characterization strongly disputed by our own legislative legal counsel.''

Even minority Democrats who opposed the original bill voted to sue.

'''Its one of those separation of power issues,'' said House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage.

A spokeswoman for Knowles said the Legislative Council's decision came as no surprise.

''We have a difference of opinion over the interpretation of our state's constitution,'' said Claire Richardson, the governor's deputy press secretary. ''We believe the three-quarter majority vote is needed to override a veto of an appropriation measure.''

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, would give the university system 250,000 acres of state land to develop as a long-term source of money. The university now has 112,000 acres in its land endowment -- second smallest among land grant universities.

Knowles bitterly opposed the bill and had vetoed similar measures twice in previous years. He said it would complicate state management, cause land use conflicts and bring about years of litigation.

The bill was also a major target of Alaska Conservation Voters, which argued the university would choose land to develop at the expense of environmental concerns.

Officials from the university and the Knowles administration said they were more interested in working on a compromise than fighting over the issue in court.

''While I understand the Legislature's need to sue on principle, we are really eager to move ahead on the issue of the transfer of land,'' said Wendy Redman, UA's vice president for university relations.

Redman said a proposal that spelled out specific parcels of land might ease the concerns of the bill's opponents while producing income for the university more quickly.

''The Knowles administration is seeking a compromise with interested groups and the university,'' Richardson said.



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