We won't dispute that Gov. Tony Knowles has shown consistency in his opposition to expanding the University of Alaska's land grant.
This administration has fought university land grants year after year and at every step in the legislative process. This spring, for the third time since taking office in 1994, the governor again sought to use his veto power to kill legislation giving the university more land.
Unlike the legislature's last two attempts at transferring land to the university, Senate Bill 7 was placed on the governor's desk more than a month ahead of adjournment. This was deliberate. Land grant supporters wanted to make absolutely sure they had time to overturn a possible veto.
Knowles, as expected, pulled out his red pen, exercising his executive authority to prevent the measure from becoming law.
This came as a disappointment. University supporters were reporting great progress forging a compromise that would have linked the grant to specific lands, a large portion of which would be devoted to long-term research projects.
The Legislature subsequently exercised its own authority to override the governor's veto. The vote was 41-19, one more than the Alaska Constitution requires for non-appropriation bills.
The governor refused to accept that outcome.
Noting the constitutional override threshold is higher for appropriation measures, Knowles conveniently decided lawmakers were four votes short of overriding his veto. The interpretation was, it comes as no surprise, backed by Attorney General Bruce Botelho; Alaska's appointed law department chief holds his job at the governor's pleasure.
The administration's stubborn stand has effectively erased the University's new 250,000-acre state land grant from the books. It endangers a pending 500,000 acre federal land grant. It also predictably infuriated the Legislative Council, a panel of lawmakers that conducts legislative business during the interim.
That panel, chaired by Sen. Mike Miller, voted 13-0 last week to contest the governor's stand in court.
This is so unfortunate and unnecessary.
In his veto message, the governor expressed willingness to bring interested parties back together and resume work on assembling an acceptable package of specific lands for conveyance to the university. The public would be much better served if the administration accepts the defeat on SB 7 and concentrates on crafting that package. The conveyance process outlined in SB 7 offers ample leverage for the administration to block land selections it finds objectionable.
Absent such cooperation, Alaskans are looking at footing the legal bills for a constitutional power struggle, and the land-grant university of this vast state remains saddled with a paltry 112,000-acre endowment.
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