Dunleavy wins: Supreme Court says legislature can appropriate current funds, can’t forward fund education

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Can the Alaska Legislature appropriate funds it doesn’t have for future fiscal years? No.

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the legislature cannot dedicate future revenues for future budgetary cycles and make those budget decisions for future lawmakers. The Alaska Legislature can, as it has in the past, set aside funds from the current budgetary cycle to be spent in future years for Alaska’s school districts. 

In Dunleavy v. Alaska Legislative Council, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed a Superior Court decision and agreed with the Attorney General that the practice of appropriating future-year revenues—referred to as “forward funding”—is unconstitutional. 

The case centers on a bill the legislature passed in 2018 that sought to appropriate funds for education from revenues over the next two consecutive fiscal years, fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2020. The bill sought to authorize, more than a year in advance, the spending of future revenues to pay for education in 2020.

In 2019, Juneau Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally ruled that the Legislature could fund education for years into the future, if it chose, even if the revenues were not yet in the state treasury.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy had argued that the forward funding is not constitutional. The Department of Law said that it violated the state constitution’s prohibition against dedicated funds. The constitutional also specifies an annual state budget.

Schally, a far-left judge, said at the time that Dunleavy had violated his constitutional obligation to “faithfully execute the laws” of Alaska.

Schally was wrong, said the Supreme Court.

“The Alaska Supreme Court is upholding the Alaska Constitution with this opinion,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “The ruling says the legislature is always okay to spend money they have in this year or future years. What’s not okay is to spend money they don’t yet have, because that takes away the funding prerogative from future legislatures.”

In an opinion by Alaska Supreme Court Justice Peter J. Maassen, the court wrote that the drafters of the Alaska Constitution “envisioned an annual budget that comprehensively addresses the State’s current needs and the resources currently available to meet those needs.” The court concluded that forward funding “undercuts an important aspect of the constitutional design: protecting the State’s flexibility in the future to respond to then-present needs with then-present resources.” 

It explained that “allowing this form of forward funding for education a year in advance would open the door for forward funding in other contexts and more years in advance, weakening the annual budgeting process intended by the Constitution’s framers.” 

The Court acknowledged the importance of providing school districts with advanced notice of their annual budget, but the Court emphasized that “there are avenues that do not raise constitutional concerns.

For example, as was the practice from 2010 to 2014, the legislature may appropriate public education funds from the upcoming fiscal year to cover expenditures in the subsequent fiscal year. Unlike the forward funding practice at issue here, this would ensure that education funds were set aside well in advance of distribution —giving school districts time to plan their budgets —without appropriating funds from future budgetary cycles.”

25 COMMENTS

  1. The constitutional guidance “one man gets one vote” is clean and simple. One man, four eeird, confusing votes counted by a foreign guy who hated the US form of government a republic. Yeah. Snap fingers. Presto chango. We gotta be modern. Change it to new fangled. Who cares about constitutional precepts. We gotta get Lisa in. :*(

    • Missing the point here, Bucko. This was about a provision in the Alaska Constitution, not the topic you are ranting about. Get a grip or get onto something else about which you know something.

      • That’s Buckey to you. “We’re all learning about it together at the same time.” Lisa said so.

  2. Hallelujah, Alaska Supreme Court got it right! The notion that a current legislature can mandate spending allocations for a future legislature without providing the revenue was so blatantly obvious.

  3. This is horrible; the Supremes must have it wrong…. How are we going to be able to establish “a long-term fiscal plan” for State government? The Left has said, again and again, that is is absolutely essential to solving all our problems. LMAO.

    • Frank, technically, no it does not, as the statute clearly calls it a transfer, but hey Bill Walker needed the money for his pipeline, so the supremes ignored that little word….
      I have not heard a single legislator talk about forward funding the PFD. If they did that, they could not spent 3/4 of the session haggling over how little to give the people, or huff and puff how greedy folks are…..

  4. The Alaska Supreme Court made a reasoned decision in this case, following the obvious provision in the Article IX that prevents the dedication of funds in the future in a way that binds future legislature.
    The real take away here is not that Governor Dunleavy “won.” The real winners here are the citizens of Alaska and the affirmation of the Alaska Constitution. The Attorney General, who is employed and works as a member of Governor Dunleavy’s cabinet, did the job assigned to him. The Alaska Supreme Court did their job by interpreting the Alaska Constitution according to the obvious meaning of the Alaska Constitution and historical meaning of the provision against dedication of funds and the precedents of the court.
    So yes, you can say Governor Dunleavy “won” this case but only if you believe Governor Dunleavy “lost” the case in the situation where he was Governor when the Alaska Supreme Court determined that borrowing a billion dollars to pay oil & gas exploration tax credits in a goofball cash for credit scheme was “unconstitutional in its entirety.” To be fair to Governor Dunleavy, the billion-dollar bond boodoggle scheme originated with Bill Walker’s pal, Sheldon Fisher, who was the Commissioner of Revenue and cooked up the cash for credits scheme, even though the exploration tax credits were not a debt of the State of Alaska. Governor Dunleavy was saddled with this goofball program, for sure, but he and his then Attorney General (it’s hard to keep track of them, they seem to change out on a regular basis), and his Commissioner of Revenue, Lucinda Mahoney, plowed on with the defense of Walker’s scheme.
    So what’s my point? Mike Dunleavy and the Attorney General did their jobs in this case. The Alaska Supreme Court did its job and followed the constitution, just like the court did in the billion dollar bond boondoggle case. All the chatter about a political figure “winning” when a case is decided according to hte constitution but ignoring a case where the politicians get smoked is just political spin.
    The real story here is that the Alaska Constitution prevented a special interest from encroaching on a constitutional provision designed to prevent a fiscal grab of public resources. The framers of our state constitution wisely adopted a provision that prevented the kind of money grab the legislature attempted to circumvent. The judiciary followed the constitution and shut down the money grab. For that, every citizen might well consider that Alaska’s Constitution works to prevent dedicated funds and that the Alaska Supreme Court interprets the law, including our constitution as it is written, not according to political desires.

    • I disagree. The supreme court ignoring the PFD statute calling it a transfer, the judicial council only picking judges of their liking, the Blaine amendment shackling kids to our failed education system, moving the legislature to the road system….It is time to take our state back from the special interest and bureaucrats. Vote yes for a constitutional convention

      • A: I don’t dispute that these issues in the Constitution need attention. There is already a process for making changes. Wiping the board clean and starting from scratch, however, would not only make focusing on urgent matters more difficult, but also would open the door to a myriad of pet projects and philisophical distortions with unintended and potentially devastating consequences. If we can’t get the support needed to make these individual changes, how are we ever going to get consensus on a whole new documrnt? No point in throwing out the baby with the bathwater when you can take baby steps. Just say NAY.

        • You misunderstand the process. There will be no “clean slate” we are not starting from scratch. Delegates will suggest specific issues to change and the convention then votes on the ones they want to work on. Once they have reached a suggested change to the constitution and voted to approve it, it will go to the people for a vote of either approval or rejection. This is a targeted process to improve and change the few issues needing updating. This does NOT invalidate the entire constitution only the parts the delegates and the people want changed.

    • Our constitution wasn’t laid down by God like The Ten Commandments, it was cobbled together by man. As such it is imperfect and with the benefit of hindsight can be improved by man. Have a little faith brother.

  5. If the constitutional convention happens, we all know what the Walker cronies will do. Suddenly it will be legal to “forward fund” the teachers union decades in advance.

    • The verdict was correct, but your an ideological basket case. Because of people like you, Alaska went from having among the best school districts in the US, to having some of the worst. Congratulations, I hope you’re proud of what you idiots accomplished.

  6. Although the verdict is correct, shame on Republicans for their continued war on education.

    When I attended the Anchorage Schools District decades ago, it was the one of the top scholastically performing school districts in the nation. Now Alaska as a whole ranks near last. I blame the Republicans war on teachers and schools. It’s obvious, Republicans destroyed the education system in Alaska.

    • Coffee,
      The Juneau government schools were crap when I was interned there forty years ago, I’m pretty sure they are still crap, imho.
      H

    • How do you figure that? Between “social emotional learning”, CRT and gender-bending, actual academics have taken a backseat for a long time. Just throwing money at this problem isn’t working, it only creates more bureaucrats (not teaching positions). Wanting accountability isn’t war on education and your implication that liberal democrats had no hand in this at all is laughable.

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