Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor asked the Alaska Superior Court today to clarify whether, despite a failed effective date in the 2022 state budget, the governor can spend money to keep state services going starting July 1, which is the beginning of the new fiscal year.
The Legislature failed to amend the effective date on the budget, which means it would not go into effect until 90 days after it is signed; this could mean sometime in September and could lead to a partial government shutdown this summer.
Democrats in the House and Senate have said the governor should ignore the “effective date” clause, which is in the Alaska Constitution, and instead just push forward and sign the budget as it was given to him last week.
But Dunleavy has been criticized by Democrats for “violating statute” by not appointing a judge in time, according to the Recall Dunleavy camp. It’s unlikely he’ll want to put himself in the position where opponents can now blame him for violating the constitution.
“When there is a dispute between branches of government, we need the courts to step in,” said Taylor. “The executive and legislative branches need clarity now from the courts as to whether the governor can, if the bill is enacted, spend money immediately despite HB 69 not taking effect until 90 days after enactment.”
Article II, section 18 of the Alaska Constitution provides that, unless agreed to by two-thirds of each house, a law passed by the legislature becomes effective ninety days after enactment. The legislature failed to pass a separate effective date with HB 69. The Constitution’s plain language states that the bill, and therefore provisions within the bill, do not go into effect until ninety days after the bill’s passage. This includes any retroactivity provision within the bill. Despite the clear constitutional language, the Legislative Affairs Agency has sent notice to legislators and legislative staff that the position of the Legislature is that a functional budget was passed and the government can continue to function as normal beginning July 1, 2021.
Taylor said that as Alaska’s attorney general, he has the obligation to defend the Constitution. Statutes and common law provide him the authority to bring cases in the public interest. Ensuring that state funds are expended in accordance with the constitution falls within the Attorney General’s authority.
“I agree with the Attorney General’s decision to petition the court on this important matter,” said Gov. Mike Dunleavy. “We need the third branch of government to step in and resolve this dispute to ensure we all carry out our constitutional duties appropriately. I will not ignore the constitution. I, along with my legal team, believe the Legislature should not ignore the constitution. The Attorney General’s actions are consistent with my goal of doing everything possible to avoid a government shutdown.”
The motion for summary judgment was filed Monday along with a motion for expedited consideration. The Attorney General is asking for a court decision by noon on June 30.