Are pink slips ahead for teachers this summer? Maybe.
Gov. Michael Dunleavy has put the House and Senate on notice about education funding: He said the current budgets being worked on by the two bodies are missing education money for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. If there’s no money appropriated for education, he won’t be able to release funds to school districts without violating the Alaska Constitution (Article 9, Sec. 7, 13).
The attorney general on April 9 gave the Legislature notice too: His letter said that it’s unconstitutional for one Legislature to bind the hands of the next Legislature.
Therefore, according to Clarkson, what the 2018 Legislature did by saying it would forward fund education for 2020, was an exercise in imaginary budgeting: The money was never appropriated because the revenue had not yet even come into the state coffers.
Yes, in 2018, the Legislature theoretically committed future funds, but they still need to appropriate those funds this year, Clarkson said.
But the Legislature’s Budget Director is advising the House and Senate to ignore the warning. David Teal said that an appropriation has indeed been made in 2018 for the 2020 fiscal year, and so lawmakers can ignore the attorney general and proceed to only appropriate for the 2021 fiscal year, to keep the forward funding going.
Not so fast, say other budget experts. If it was appropriated last year, it would have been counted last year, and it was not. Back to the constitutional question of one Legislature binding the hands of the next.
Will the governor veto the education budget? He cannot, because in his opinion there is no budget to veto. He can’t veto a decision made last year that had no line item with it. And in any case, that budget has flown the coop — Walker signed it last year.
What Dunleavy can do, however, is not release funds to school districts. The more likely scenario is that he calls the Legislature back into special session to deal with the education budget. By that time, the rest of the budget will be on his desk for his potential veto consideration.
Or, they can all end up in court this summer, while pink slips go out across the school districts of Alaska.
One thing seems sure: If this governor believes something is unconstitutional, he’s shown that he’s not the kind of governor to just let it ride.
It’s a $1.2 billion question that is hanging out there unresolved as the House and Senate get close to negotiating final passage of the 2020 budget.
Why are legislators not putting the education money into the budget this year?
Teal has told them they don’t have to. And if they do, it becomes subject to the red pen — which is another thing this governor has also signaled he is ready to wield. Dunleavy has proposed in his budget cutting $300 million from the $1.6 billion education budget of this year.
Either the education money missing from the 2020 budget is a constitutional condition, like Teal is claiming, or it’s not, like the Attorney General is claiming.
But the matter is far from resolved as the Legislature heads into its 105th day, with the drop-dead date — May 15 — fast approaching. And the other date to consider is this one: In Anchorage and much of the state, the first day back for teachers is Aug. 15. In the Mat-Su, teachers return on Aug. 12.