That the state of Alaska decided last week to appeal the recent Ketchikan Superior Court ruling freeing Alaska municipalities from required financial contributions to local schools surprised virtually no one.
Judge William Carey’s decision, made on the grounds that the required contribution violated a state constitutional requirement that no tax can be earmarked for a specific purpose, plunked an additional $220 million hole in school district budgets at a time when a porous operating budget is going to lose at least $3.5 billion in 2015 thanks to stunningly low oil prices.
Still, the modus operandi of the state on the issue of local education contributions has been essentially unchanged between the administrations of Gov. Sean Parnell and Gov. Bill Walker, and that might surprise those who solely relied on Walker’s statements when he was running for election.
When asked about the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s lawsuit in October, during a debate hosted by the Ketchikan Daily News, Walker the candidate told a Ketchikan crowd that as a member of the Alaska Municipal League and Alaska Municipal Attorneys Association he had reviewed the litigation and that there was “a tremendous amount of support for it, a tremendous amount of empathy and acknowledgment that something had to be done.”
What did Walker himself think of the lawsuit?
“I think it’s a bold move,” Walker said. “I do support what you’re doing. I think there are times to step up and say enough is enough. I certainly am sorry that we’ve reached that point, I’ll put it that way. I know there’s lots of things that must have been done prior to reaching that point because I know that was not a knee-jerk reaction, but at some point you have to say enough is enough and stand up for what you feel is right, that’s what you’re doing, and I applaud your efforts on that.”
That sounds pretty straight forward.
After being elected, Walker was much less forthcoming on the issue.
“I have been advised by my attorney general that I need to defer to my attorney general on those things,” Walker told the Daily News in December.
Attorney General Craig Richards — who was Walker’s law partner for over 10 years — evidently decided on an appeal.
We’re not going to pillory Walker over what, on the surface, certainly looks like a drastic about face. Oil prices were not then what they are now, and technically everything Walker said at the debate could be a statement of his personal opinion, not how he planned to act as governor.
We will, however, offer advice: Be careful.
When you discuss an issue as a political candidate, you are essentially writing a check to Alaska communities and saying, “you can’t cash this now, but if you elect me, you can.”
This was an avoidable issue. Many people expected the state to appeal if it lost the suit, regardless of who was in the governor’s office.
In other words, Walker didn’t have to say what he did, and a gubernatorial debate is not the place to express your personal legal opinions if you are not planning on following through on them as governor.
That being said, things never stay the same. If the price of oil has dropped too low since the October debate, or if something else has changed your opinion, sit down with the voters and explain why. Voters are not necessarily owed action, but they are owed an explanation.
In any election, voters add up the checks that politicians have written with their promises, and count how many of those checks can now be cashed.
Knowing Walker’s admirable views on what it means to be an Alaskan, we don’t think he would have it any other way.
— Ketchikan Daily News,