Committee approves LIO money, none for lawsuit-required school

The Alaska Senate Finance Committee has approved a state construction budget with funding for a controversial Legislative office building in Anchorage and without funding for a lawsuit-required school in the Northwest Arctic Borough.

The committee on Thursday voted to approve a $1.6 billion capital budget funded primarily by federal money. According to documents provided by the Legislative Finance Division, $1.3 billion will be federal money accepted by the state and distributed to different departments and projects.

Most of the non-federal money consists of matching funds required to receive the federal dollars.

The committee’s action sends the capital budget to the full Senate for consideration.

Contained within the budget is $12.5 million to purchase a 47,000-square-foot building in Anchorage to serve as Legislative offices.

Requested by Gov. Bill Walker but rejected by the committee was $7.2 million for a school in the village of Kivalina. Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome and a member of the committee, also requested funding for the school — which lies within his district — but was turned down by every other member of the committee.

In 2011, the state settled a 14-year-old lawsuit over rural school funding. As part of that lawsuit (known as Kasayulie v. State), Alaska was required to build new schools in Emmonak, Koliganek, Nightmute, Kwethluk and Kivalina.

Last year, the Legislature appropriated nearly $43 million for the project, but in a memo dated April 9, 2015, Assistant Attorney General Rebecca Hattan said the state must pay slightly more than $50 million to meet its obligations.

Walker requested $7.2 million to complete the state’s payments, but Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage, said on Thursday that “there is enough money that is, for lack of a better phrase, pigeon-holed for this project.”

After the meeting, a MacKinnon staffer said lawyers advising the senator had a different figure for the amount required to be paid by the settlement.

Olson disagreed, and Pat Pitney, director of the state’s Office of Management and Budget, told the committee that “the administration also believes that the commitment under the lawsuit requires an additional $7 million toward the school construction.”

MacKinnon said Pitney isn’t from the Department of Law and might not be familiar with the legal issues behind the topic.

Cori Mills, a spokeswoman for the Department of Law, said Pitney was accurate. “Our letter from last year, that still applies, and we still stand behind that,” Mills said by phone. “It’s $50 million, and they appropriated $43 (million). The governor put forward the $7.2 (million) for that reason.”

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