BUDGET HAS NOT EVEN BEEN TRANSMITTED TO THE GOVERNOR, BUT SPEAKER IS COMPLAINING
House Speaker Louise Stutes is upset that Gov. Mike Dunleavy has asked the Alaska Superior Court to weigh in on whether he can ignore the state Operating Budget’s effective date.
In a press statement on Tuesday, Stutes said the governor was unnecessarily risking a government shutdown. “Speaker calls on Governor Dunleavy to stop pushing Alaska closer to a shutdown,” is the headline on Stutes’ statement.
Dunleavy’s Attorney General on Monday asked the Superior Court to settle the question about whether Dunleavy can simply ignore the effective date clause in the budget and simply start spending money. Attorney General Treg Taylor said it’s his job to defend the constitution, and this appears to be a constitutional dispute between branches of government. After Dunleavy sought advice from Chief Justice Bolger, and was denied, AG Taylor filed a complaint with Superior Court to get the ball rolling.
The situation surrounds a constitutional technicality that says the budget goes into effect 90 days after it is signed, unless the Legislature passes a revised “effective date clause,” which would be needed in order to avoid a partial government shutdown.
The House did not pass that clause, because House Republicans were dissatisfied that the Permanent Fund dividend had once again been treated as a “what’s leftover, and as little as we can get away with” appropriation, rather than what Alaskans know they are entitled to through statute, which is about $3,500 this year.
Stutes’ statement is also an indication that the House Democrat leadership misjudged the situation, because now that the matter is before the courts, the Democrats’ plan to blame the governor for a shutdown becomes more problematic. The House had put forward a Permanent Fund dividend of zero, and then bargained it up to $1,100 through conference committee with the Senate.
Also problematic is the fact that the Legislature has not yet even transmitted the budget to the governor, yet the House Speaker is blaming the governor for risking a shutdown.
Legislative Affairs Agency has advised the Legislature that the government can continue operating on July 1, but the Governor’s Office is taking a more originalist approach to the Alaska Constitution, referring to what the framers intended when they put in the 90-day clause, rather than recent legal writings that propose looser interpretations.
The governor called the Legislature back into a second special session that starts on Wednesday, when the Legislature can remedy the situation by taking the existing budget, which is largely agreed to by both sides, and putting it inside a bill that has not yet passed — the forward funding for education bill, for example (HB 169), that is in House Finance. If the House majority treats the minority with consideration and includes a Permanent Fund dividend that most Republicans can stomach voting for, the House could transmit that bill to the Senate this week and they could all go home.
Alternately, Dunleavy has said he will present the Legislature with a new budget when they gather. His will likely include what’s known as the “50-50 PFD,” which is the amount that would be calculated under SJR 6, his bill to put the entire PFD calculation into the Alaska Constitution through a vote of the people — up or down.
“The fact that the governor is reaching out to the chief justice of the Supreme Court on a pending legal matter is inappropriate and troubling. Alaska just got through one of the toughest years in our history, and the governor should stop using our limited time and money on a lawsuit that will drive us one step closer to a state-imposed shutdown,” Stutes said.
On social media, however, the constituents of far-left members of her majority are not amused. Heavy criticism is being lobbed at Rep. Zack Fields and others for wasting 153 days so far this year and not producing a budget.
The public, which has been shut from the Alaska Capitol for well over a year, is using Facebook to tell lawmakers what is on their minds, and the Democrats are being wrecked by their constituents.
“Perhaps he’s [Dunleavy] pushing for the full PFD disbursement for Alaska’s citizens,” wrote one citizen to Fields about the Dunleavy PFD plan. “Perhaps less of the CBR should go to run state government (as designed – it’s not a bailout for fiscal irresponsibility!) 40% has NOT been cut in the last 6 years = shell game. Be honest and maybe people wouldn’t be so touchy about the subject.”
“It is reprehensible that you are trying to steal the pfd from every man, woman and child including disabled, homeless, senior citizen, victims of abuse and people with terminal illness, all to pay for your ‘programs’ that fail to help the people. There’s words for that and ‘politician’ is no excuse,” wrote another to Fields.
“Grow Up Rep. Fields, get your job done. Quit laying it off on others,” commented another, in a series of remarks that reflected the sentiment against Fields, in his attempt to shift blame to the governor.
Fields has had a tough public relations year, after having been part of a beer-and-leg-wrestling party after hours in the Capitol complex, and has been criticized for his cozy relationships with Republican turncoat Rep. Kelly Merrick and Rep. Sara Rasmussen. His past behavior puts him on shaky ground for criticizing the governor, when his own caucus has not been able to produce a legal budget.