Last year, a circuit court in Alaska agreed with a lawsuit by the Ketchikan Getaway Borough that the state’s required local contribution in support of schools violates the Alaska State Constitution’s edict against earmarked funds. Local governments in Alaska pour an estimate $225 million a year into public schools, and the lawsuit’s filers predict that will rise by at least fifty percent in the next five years. An increase would would in turn reduce the state’s share in the responsibility of education funding.
On Friday, January 8, 2016, the Alaska Supreme Court partially reversed this ruling, making that increase all but inevitable.
Among the primary filers of the lawsuit was Dan Bockhorst, Borough Manager. “There is very little doubt that we are going to suffer very significantly increased property taxes or other taxes as a result of this decision,” he said in disappointment at the ruling.
Bockhurt cited a 2014 task force in the Alaska House of Representatives, which put forward that the state’s level of education funding was insufficient and unsustainable. That was when oil, the state’s primary taxed income, was over a hundred dollars a barrel. Less than a year later, oil is $35 a barrel, and local governments would have to raise taxes even higher to compensate for that loss, if required to make up the shortfall.
Justice Joel Bolger, who wrote the Supreme Court opinion, declared that the state constitution in its historical context intended that local communities and the State would share responsibility for schools, with no required portions in either direction.
The Borough is making no plans to challenge this decision, though it seems they would have the support of at least one Justice. The question of the constitutionality of the required contribution is still in doubt.