AG: House, Senate omitting public education from the budget is ‘unconstitutional’

 Capitol Building in Juneau, Alaska
Capitol Building in Juneau, Alaska (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 12, 2019 at 3:41 PM AKDT
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In a letter to legislators, the Alaska Attorney General has challenged a decision by the Alaska House of Representatives to omit public education funding from the FY2020 budget as unconstitutional.

The budget that passed through the House Thursday afternoon does not contain an appropriation for education funding, instead, it relies on an education funding bill passed in 2018 to forward-fund schools.

“Legal opinion from (legislative) legal supports taking the action that we have,” said Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, before explaining why the decision was made, “Because what we want to do is prevent any possible veto of education funds.”

The governor has line-item veto power to reduce or quash spending. Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed a budget

of more than $300 million.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson sent a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, arguing that the decision to omit public education funding was unconstitutional.

According to Clarkson, forward funding education in that way creates constitutional problems as it binds future legislatures and governors to spend future revenues, and effectively breaches a prohibition against dedicating revenues.

The House Majority and the Senate are united against the governor's legal position.

“The governor can certainly have his own opinion,” said Giessel. “We also have an opinion from our own legislative legal that supports our opinion, so we're going to stand on that.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, echoed Giessel, saying the forward funding bill was passed into law last year and that “it was never subject to this governor's actions and it is not subject to his veto.”

The governor’s press secretary Matt Shuckerow said Friday afternoon that it would be a “crisis” if public education wasn’t funded in the budget and he reiterated that the governor is asking the House and Senate leadership to put public education funding back into the budget.

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