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Governor may face lawsuit, recall effort over his PFD veto

By Liz Raines 8:50 PM July 6, 2016
ANCHORAGE –

Gov. Bill Walker is under fire from both sides of the aisle after his controversial budget veto to limit Permanent Fund Dividend checks to $1,000 this fall. At a press conference last week, Walker said he’d take the blame for it, and now people from both political parties are pointing their fingers.

While a conservative Republican is leading the charge to recall him from office, a Democrat is thinking about suing the governor. Sen. Bill Wielechowski said he’s trying to figure out whether the way Walker cut the dividend is legal.

“It says at the end of each year, the Permanent Fund Corporation shall transfer the amount to pay the dividend,” Wielechowski said, pointing to an Alaska statute.

The Democrat and attorney of 24 years said money for PFD checks should be coming from the Permanent Fund Corporation directly, not the state budget, which is subject to the governor’s veto. But his legislative colleagues aren’t likely to take action.

“I can’t imagine there being enough votes to sue over the decision,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, chair of the Legislative Council.

Wielechowski said he’s ready to move on his own.

“I don’t relish the idea of ever filing a lawsuit, but sometimes you have to stand up when you’re fighting for a belief, something that you believe in,” he said.

The Department of Law said anyone could sue over the issue, and it’s prepared to defend the governor’s decision.

“It’s our opinion that what the governor did is perfectly legal and that the corporation not transferring the money and basing it on the appropriation is the proper way to interpret the constitution and the statute,” said Cori Mills, an assistant attorney general for the department.

But Wielechowski isn’t the only one questioning the PFD cut. Joe Miller, a conservative Republican who challenged Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 U.S. Senate race, is calling for a recall of Walker.

“Governor Walker Steals $666 million from Alaska’s families — time to recall the liar,” wrote Miller in a post on his campaign site, Restoring Liberty.

According to the Division of Elections, a recall application requires the physical — not electronic — signatures of 10 percent of the population that voted in the last general election. This year, that number is 28,585. That’s just the start of a cumbersome process that includes proving one of the four grounds for recall: fitness, competence, neglect of duty or corruption.

“They are not very successful. Often they are denied because you do have some pretty strict requirements,” said Carol Thompson, absentee and petition manager with the Division of Elections.

Thompson said there’s only ever been one application filed to recall a governor — Gov. Walter Hickel in 1992 — and the courts ultimately ruled against it.

In a statement, Walker responded to the recall efforts:

“I respect these Alaskans’ right to voice their objections over my budget vetoes. However that does not sway my decision on how to address the state’s fiscal challenges. Alaska is currently facing a $4 billion budget deficit. Without significant changes, the Permanent Fund Dividend will go to zero in just four years. I was proud to follow the actions of the Republican-led Senate, which voted to restructure the Permanent Fund. While the actions we took were not politically popular, they were absolutely necessary to preserve our state’s savings and bring fiscal stability back to Alaska.”

Wielechowski said he plans to file a lawsuit after the upcoming special session — which starts Monday in Juneau — if the Legislature fails to overturn the governor’s PFD veto or change Alaska law.

KTVA 11’s Liz Raines can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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