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Assembly OKs joint resolution: Opposing Gov. Dunleavy’s budget

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday gave its unanimous stamp of approval on a joint resolution opposing Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed state budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1.

The Assembly was the first local elected body to consider the proposed joint resolution that states the governor’s budget would “irreparably harm Ketchikan’s economy and shift state expenses onto local taxpayers.

The Ketchikan School Board is scheduled to consider the joint resolution on Wednesday, according to Borough Clerk Kacie Paxton. The issues will be on the regular meeting agendas of the Saxman City Council and Ketchikan City Council on March 20 and March 21, respectively.

Like other municipalities and school districts around the state, Ketchikan’s local governments have been analyzing the state budget proposed by Dunleavy on Feb. 13.

The magnitude of the potential impacts on the Ketchikan area prompted the Assembly on Feb. 19 to request borough staff to draft a joint resolution. The document considered Monday evening was drafted in consultation with administrators and municipal clerks from the other bodies.

The proposed joint resolution lists impacts on local education funding, the Alaska Marine Highway System, Ketchikan Shipyard, local health care and other aspects of Ketchikan before stating opposition to Dunleavy’s budget “in favor of an incremental approach to balancing the state of the budget.”

On Monday, the Assembly discussion on the joint resolution came late in the meeting.

Assembly members voted on two amendments.

The first amendment was proposed by Assembly Member Judith McQuerry. Approved unanimously, the amendment revised language in the education funding section to state that the Ketchikan School District would need to “eliminate approximately 70 teaching positions or the equivalent of 208 support staff positions” to absorb the proposed reductions.

“Even if every non-personnel budget item of the district was eliminated, the district would still need to make an additional $2.4 million in cuts,” states the amended language.

The second amendment was proposed by Assembly Member Rodney Dial, who noted that the joint resolution, as written, contained nothing that’s “going to be seen as a shock to anybody in Juneau.”

However, “other than say that we want an incremental approach to the budget, — whatever that means — we’re really not offering any ideas on how we'd like to see them deal with this issue,” Dial said. “So I’d like to offer an amendment.”

He offered an amendment that drew on the Assembly’s previous, unanimous resolution that focuses on state’s disparity between the organized borough areas that are required to contribute toward local education funding and areas that aren’t within organized boroughs and don’t have a required local contribution.

Dial’s proposed amendment stated that the “Assembly finds that a taxing scheme which places burdens only on residents in organized boroughs and the city school districts is a discriminatory system for financing  public services by this state and impairs development by local communities with shared interests and responsibilities.”

The proposed amendment went on to note that  the current policy debates provide an “exceptional opportunity” to remedy the “disparate impact of the required local contribution.”

  Thus, “the Assembly takes the position that any fiscal reform by the State of Alaska which does not resolve the disparate financial obligations imposed on residents in organized boroughs vis a vis residents of the unorganized borough is unacceptable,” the proposed amendment stated.

Dial said that amendment would allow the Assembly to offer more than just criticism, and to suggest change that was positive to the borough.

While the proposed amendment garnered positive comment from other Assembly members, there were concerns that making such a large change to the joint resolution at this point might jeopardize its potential passage by the other elected bodies.

“I guess I'm just worried that we might be introducing something at this stage of the game that may not be acceptable,” said Borough Mayor David Landis, who asked Paxton to describe the process that the clerks and administrators used in drafting the original joint resolution language.

McQuerry said she would support the proposed amendment concept at another time, but she would rather not include it in the proposed joint resolution.

“I think we need to not make it more complicated than it already is,” McQuerry said.

Assembly Member Alan Bailey said he applauded the effort but noted that the Alaska Supreme Court already has ruled against Ketchikan on a case focused on the required local contribution inequity.

While it’s right for the Assembly to continue bringing the issue forward, said Bailey, “My concern is this is a little bit late right now.”

The proposed amendment garnered support from Assembly Member Sue Pickrell, who said that any chance that the Assembly has to voice its opinion on the equity issue and what the Ketchikan community and others are having to pay when the parity isn’t there for the whole state of Alaska — especially during a time of a large budget deficit — is appropriate.

The vote went against the proposed amendment. Dial, Pickrell and Assembly Member Sven Westergard voted yes; and McQuerry, Bailey, Assembly Member Felix Wong and Assembly Member AJ Pierce voted no.

The Assembly then voted unanimously in support of the joint resolution with only the first amendment included.

Monday’s meeting continued until nearly 10:30 p.m., and ended without the Assembly completing its full agenda.

The rest of the agenda, which includes the introduction of proposed Ordinance 1883 that would dedicate 100 percent of the borough’s current tobacco excise tax to the Local Education Fund, is being moved to the Assembly’s next regular meeting on March 18.