Lawsuit is about imperial power of the governor


The State of Alaska owes doctors and providers in Alaska hundreds of millions of dollars in back payments for Medicaid services, and the State is falling behind every day. Yet the governor and commissioner of Health and Social Services are nowhere to be found. It’s as if they have vanished.

In the way-back machine, Gov. Bill Walker and Commissioner Val Davidson were everywhere last year, crisscrossing the state as they launched their push to “Reform and Expand” Medicaid in Alaska, saying it was “good for the state budget.” They deployed an army of consultants to make the case for expanded Medicaid.

The legislative majority wasn’t convinced. After Walker expanded Medicaid by fiat in August, the Legislative Council sued the governor to determine if he actually has the authority to expand programs and spend state funds without the funding authority of the Legislature.

Here’s the crux of the lawsuit: The Alaska Constitution establishes the Legislature as the policy setting and law-making branch of government.  The governor is constitutionally designated as the “executive” responsible for implementing policies and laws passed by the Legislature.
In the case of the recent Obamacare expansion, Walker got it backward. He exceeded his constitutional authority by unilaterally committing Alaska to a bank-breaking new program, one that will cost Alaska hundreds of millions of dollars as federal funding for the expansion is reduced in the near future.

Rep. Craig Johnson was appointed by Legislative Council to represent the House in a lawsuit that would define these newly grabbed gubernatorial powers.

Sen. John Coghill was appointed to represent the Senate. Recently, when the Senate decided it did not want to pursue an appeal of a lower court decision that sided with the governor, Coghill instructed aide Chad Hutchison to provide the House with everything the House needed to proceed with the appeal.

As a full and equal member of the Legislative Council, the House was a full party to the lawsuit. As such, it has standing to bring the appeal.

Once the Senate withdrew, the lead responsibility fell to Rep. Johnson to direct lawsuit lawyers and file the appeal before time to appeal had elapsed.

Johnson, acting on behalf of the House, did so and the appeal was filed on time. The case is proceeding as authorized by Legislative Council last August.

Contrary to what some have suggested, no additional vote was needed to proceed with the appeal. The appeal is a part of the original lawsuit which was authorized.

Ultimately the case should be decided in the Alaska Supreme Court. Even Superior Court Judge Pfiffner cautioned that he was “just a speed bump” on the way to the state’s high court because the case involves significant constitutional and statutory issues.

This is especially important because today the State cannot even make good on its existing Medicaid debts, as evidenced by the letter sent to providers by the Department of Health and Social Services this week. The letter was an admission that the Medicaid system is overextended. Without funds, it is in shambles. Expanding Obamacare further will only deepen the financial risk to the state

Without the legal case brought by the Legislature, Alaska would be the only state in the country that would be required by the courts to maintain an expanded Medicaid program, even if federal funding is reduced.

That would be a unique position to be in, and one that is completely contrary to the Supreme Court ruling.