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‘Friendly lawsuit’ in the works between Legislature, governor

The House and Senate are indicating they’ll see the governor in court over the legality of appropriating Education before there are actual revenues to fund it.

In Senate Finance today, Senate members asked a liaison from the Department of Law and a budget analyst from the Office of Management and Budget if the governor would veto the education funding in the current 2020 budget, which appropriates education funding for 2021 — but not for 2020. The 2020 fiscal year starts July. The Legislature says it funded the 2020 budget last year

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The answer was yes.

If there’s no money in hand, the Legislature can’t appropriate it and the governor can’t release it, said Cori Mills, speaking on behalf of the Department of Law, which issued the decision through Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.

With the governor likely to veto what he and Clarkson see as unconstitutional forward-appropriation,  the Office of Management and Budget also indicated that unless resolved, funding won’t go out to the districts in July “without a valid appropriation.”

That would mean pink slips unless the court moves with haste.

Sen. Natasha Von Imhof was not convinced of the invalidity of the appropriation done in 2018 for the 2020 budget.

She mentioned the money in the Constitutional Budget Reserve and the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account. “There’s a lot of money in there right now. If the markets tank, there will not be a lot of money in there. If this body decides to move a good portion of the funds into the principal, there will not be a lot of money. So there’s a lot of unknowns at any given time. Whether it’s this body and your assumptions of where the money’s going to come from … So to sit there and say we did not have the money a year ago, we certainly did, and still do.”

Sen. Donny Olson asked if the Fiscal Year 2020 budget is funded by 2020 revenues or are those revenues from 2019. Lacy Saunders  of Office of Management and Budget answered that funds for the 2020 budget come from revenues received in 2020 fiscal year, unless they are drawn from savings.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski asked Cori Mills of the Department of Law why, in the years between 2006-2015, with all the various attorneys general Alaska has had, none of them had ever flagged forward funding as an issue during the multiple bill reviews that have occurred.

Mills responded that those forward-funding bills were different because “they took surplus revenues, put them into the public education fund, and it then sat in the fund, and basically the fund was overfunded for two years worth of education funding, using the revenues that came in that forthcoming fiscal year. It wasn’t the case that it had a future effective date where you are taking future revenues past that forthcoming fiscal year.”

“Why is that different?” Wielechowski asked.

“Because the Constitution envisions an annual process where the Legislature looks at the revenues that are going to be coming in in the forthcoming fiscal year, and they have the responsibility on how those are supposed to be spent,” Mills said. “If they want to overfund the public education fund and have it available for multiple years, that’s fine, but you can’t tie the hands of a future legislature and future governor on revenues that are going to come in past that forthcoming fiscal year. That’s taking revenues that aren’t even on the table yet and setting them aside.”

Mills said that when the Department of Law looked back 10 years, it could not find another example of a Legislature appropriating funds with the same set of facts.

“I think we have an honest disagreement as to the appropriating powers vested in the Legislature that has not been clarified by the third branch of government, which is the courts,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, cochair of the Finance Committee.

“Having a friendly lawsuit…probably makes sense,” said Sen. Von Imhof.

Meanwhile, today representatives from the Governor’s Office toured sites in Wasilla in anticipation of a second special session, which would be called to hammer out unfinished business, such as the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend and, perhaps, education funding.

The sites being looked at are Wasilla Middle School and the Wasilla Sports Complex. Along with Jeremy Price, deputy chief of staff, was a computer/information technology person and Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle.

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Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. I was once told by a friend who is a teacher that there are two administrators for every teacher in the school district?
    Why can’t our leaders work to overhaul the “system” without cutting funding to teachers?
    Seems like the school district unions are one of the few organizations that influence both sides of the political aisle these days in AK.
    Let the Governor walk the walk and force districts to “cut the fat”.
    As a parent who is dedicated to homeschooling my son, I find it absurd that over 80 percent of my property taxes goes to the Mat Su school district when we still cannot pay local firefighters more than $11.22 an hour to start.
    Lobbyists for the teacher’s union in AK have grown too strong and the administrators at the school district are to high on the hog in their “Ivory Tower” these days.
    BTW…how much does the teacher pension system cost us each year in the state budget?
    There are many items that need evaluation and sadly I doubt anything will change.

    • Steve,

      Neither the Governor nor the Legislature can tell the school district how to spend money (on teachers or administrators). It is up to the board of each school district and those they put in charge to decide how to spend the money they receive from the state and through property tax. If you don’t like how your school district spends your tax dollars you need to talk to your local school board and/or elect different school board members.

    • I guess a good place to start is making money raised in a bond proposal actually spent on what the bond was put before voters for.

  2. The conservatives in Alaska need to start getting tough.

    This is the exact same thing the Dems are doing to the president.

    They are mirroring their successes in Washington DC against Trump to mire down governors in red states.

    Unless we start fighting back, fighting hard and fighting smart, they will keep Mike Dunleavy’s agenda from getting done before his first term ends.

    THAT is why it is SO IMPORTANT that Governor Dunleavy implements his PFD plan, NO MATTER WHAT.

    He needs to secure a second term to destroy these crazy, radical socialist Democrats.

    The full PFD payout & PFD repayment is the only way he guarantees it.

  3. The Party of Hillary Clinton, Baby Butchery, and Alaska’s Education Industry vs. everybody else…
    Don’t see the “friendly” part…

  4. The Pink Slips should go to the administrators / bureaucrats / unions – who continually line their silk pockets with ‘education funding’; while teachers get fired, and students don’t learn. And the politicians who continue to support this debacle. Get rid of them!

  5. I can see that this issue will not be settled by one judge. We all know that judges are political people too, so I will not be surprised when the losing side takes the issue to a next higher court.

    Democrats have for decades relied on liberal judges to achieve their ends when they can’t get a law passed in State Legislatures or the U S Congress. Democrats have been judge shopping constantly to stop everything that President Trump has tried to do and have been successful.

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