Education funding is heating up at the Alaska Capitol.
Alaska’s Attorney General Kevin Clarkson drafted an official opinion that says although the Legislature may have thought it “forward funded” education last year, they had no money in hand to appropriate.
The opinion, which absent a court challenge that overturns it, becomes law of the land. The constitutional problems with the forward funding method used by the Legislature include this conundrum: If allowed to forward appropriate, there’s no stopping the Legislature from forward funding the entire State budget for one, two, three, or more years. It can simply bypass the veto power of the Executive Branch for a governor’s entire term in office.
That’s not what the framers of the Alaska Constitution intended, Clarkson said in his written opinion today. The opinion follows an advisory letter of several weeks ago warning the Legislature of the position the executive branch was going to take.
Last year’s education funding included a promise by legislators to fully fund education for Fiscal Year 2020, which starts July 1 of 2019.
When Gov. Bill Walker submitted his budget in December, he included an amount for education.
Gov. Michael Dunleavy also included funding for education in the revised budget he submitted to the Legislature in February.
But both the House and Senate are saying they already appropriated the money last year and the current working budget will only contain forward funding for the 2021 education. If the Legislature holds firm, then the governor and the Legislature will end up in court.
The summary of Clarkson’s opinion includes:
“It is the opinion of the Department of Law that the appropriation is unconstitutional because it contravenes the annual budgeting process required by the Alaska Constitution and it is an improper dedication of funds. Over 25 years ago, the Alaska Supreme Court held that the Alaska Constitution mandates an annual budgeting process-“the constitutional framers believed that the legislature would be required to decide funding priorities annually on the merits of the various proposals presented.”
Less than two years ago the Court again emphasized this annual budgeting process in the legal dispute over whether the permanent fund dividend must be appropriated each year-“[a]bsent another constitutional amendment, the Permanent Fund dividend program must compete for annual legislative funding just as other state programs.”
As detailed below, we believe last year’s appropriation for FY20 K-12 education spending improperly binds a future legislature and future governor in contravention of the annual budgeting process and violates the constitutional prohibition against dedicating state revenues. Absent an appropriation for FY20 K-12 education in the budget bills passed this legislative session, the only appropriation for education will be one that is unconstitutional in the view of the Department of Law.”