Anchorage mayor's 'line-item' veto of education budget upheld

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Anchorage's mayor has the ability to cut local school funding through his line-item veto power, the state Supreme Court said in a case handed down Friday.

The ruling upholds $4.3 million in cuts to Anchorage School District budgets by former Mayor Rick Mystrom. It also clarifies powers in about 19 home rule cities and boroughs.

''It has substantial implications for home rule cities in Alaska,'' said William Greene, attorney for Anchorage.

The state High Court ruled 3-1 that the line-item veto granted to Anchorage's mayor in 1990 includes the ability to reduce the school district budget.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe did not participate in the case.

State law forbids local governments without home rule powers from cutting education.

Anchorage parent John Repasky Jr. and other parents filed the lawsuit after Mystrom used line-item vetoes to cut two school budgets in 1995 and 1997.

The Anchorage School District filed a brief in the case opposing the city. The district argued the local school budget was protected by state law and the Alaska Constitution from a mayoral veto.

The state Supreme Court overturned a decision by Superior Judge Michael Wolverton that sided with the parent and the district.

''It clearly establishes the fact that local schools in home rule jurisdictions are a part of that municipal government. I think it resolves the question that they are accountable,'' said Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch.

Supreme Court Justice Alexander O. Bryner cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing the decision threatens the state's exclusive control of public education.

Bryner said only local assemblies can approve school budgets, and the Legislature never intended to give mayors such power over them.

State law does not allow ''room for the 'extra political wrinkle' of a mayoral veto,'' Bryner wrote.

Mystrom used his line-item veto to cut $2.3 million from the 1995-96 school district budget, reducing it to $350 million. The Anchorage Assembly failed to override his veto.

In 1997, Mystrom sliced $2 million from the school district's 1997-98 budget, reducing it to $359 million.

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