At first blush, it looks like a simple, local dispute in the hands of state judges. A community in southern Alaska called Ketchikan Borough filed a lawsuit last month, challenging a discrepancy in state school funding that penalizes larger school districts.
But as the litigation continues, state government continues to operate normally, and an unrelated effort is underway to divvy up state construction funds. Late last week, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) made a rather striking effort to connect the two.
Parnell was in Ketchikan Thursday and gave interviews to the public radio station, KRBD, and the Ketchikan Daily News. In a barely veiled threat, he told both that the Ketchikan borough’s lawsuit could have “unintended consequences” with both him and the Legislature when it came time to dealing with Ketchikan’s capital projects. […]“I do want to address this issue of how the lawsuit is viewed by legislators and by me because it does shade or color the reaction to Ketchikan requests,” the Ketchikan Daily News reported.“When Ketchikan asks for money, but yet the state may be on the hook in the lawsuit for more money, there’s kind of a reluctance, or reticence, to step forward for other projects,” he told KRBD.
In other words, as far as Alaska’s Republican governor is concerned, it’s a nice funding request Ketchikan has there; it’d be a shame if something happened to it.
The Anchorage Daily News added that Parnell’s threatened retaliation “reverberated … as a kind of ‘Chris Christie’ moment.”
Yes, we’ve apparently reached the point at which talk of a Republican governor threatening to use public funds to punish a community that’s annoying him leads to an awkward question: which one?
For his part, Parnell seemed to realize he’d caused himself some trouble and started backing away from his apparent threat.
Gov. Sean Parnell said Friday that he wasn’t threatening the Ketchikan Gateway Borough when he said its lawsuit against the state over school funding could “shade or color” reaction to the community’s requests for state money to fund infrastructure projects.Parnell told The Associated Press that the comments he made to Ketchikan reporters about how he and lawmakers could view the borough’s capital appropriations requests weren’t intended to be retaliatory. The Republican governor said he simply gave an honest answer to the Ketchikan Daily News on Thursday when he said it could be hard for legislators to separate the lawsuit from boroughs’ budget requests. He made similar comments to KRBD radio.Parnell said that when he was drafting his budget request for next fiscal year, the prospect of a lawsuit was pending and he did not hold it against Ketchikan, “and wouldn’t. That’s just not who I am.”
The most charitable interpretation of the governor’s comments is that it’s a limited state budget, and if the lawsuit forces changes to Alaska’s education formula, it may mean fewer dollars for infrastructure.
But that’s not quite what Parnell actually said. In fact, the governor seemed to connect rather explicitly the community that filed the suit and that community’s future capital projects.