AG: Omitting school funding appropriation unconstitutional; lawmakers unmoved

Published: May. 9, 2019 at 5:58 PM AKDT
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According to a formal opinion from the Alaska Attorney General, the Legislature’s decision to omit an appropriation for K-12 funding in the fiscal year 2020 budget is unconstitutional. Leadership in the House majority and across the Senate remain united in relying on forward-funding for schools.

The formal Attorney General opinion was sent to lawmakers Wednesday after a months-long process involving state attorneys researching case law and precedent.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson writes that the decision by the Legislature, “contravenes the annual budgeting process required by the Alaska Constitution and it is an improper dedication of funds.”

The opinion centers on the idea that a Legislature cannot bind a future Legislature to appropriate funds.

Cori Mills, a deputy attorney general with the Department of Law, said attorneys looked back over the past 10-15 years and couldn’t find “a similar situation where future revenues were appropriated that had a future effective date.”

In an announcement on social media Tuesday, the governor said that

if it was put as an appropriation in the budget.

“This year we won’t look at reducing the size of the education budget,” said the governor. “We will not veto that funding in any form or fashion. We will let that funding go through.”

Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, said if the Legislature does not put school funding into the budget, “it will set up a scenario where education is not going to be funded and education funding is not going to be distributed at the end of the fiscal year.”

The House majority and both caucuses in the Senate are sticking with a plan that relies on a forward-funding measure passed in 2018. Lawmakers say that they have their own legal advice from the Division of Legal and Research Services that their decision is constitutional.

“The governor is subjecting students, parents, and teachers to an unnecessary legal and political fight,” said House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, in a statement. “We stand with the Senate and remain firm in our belief that the Legislature acted in a legal and appropriate fashion when it forward funded K-12 schools last year.”

The House minority caucus remains the one group within the Legislature that agrees with the governor’s position on school funding.

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said it was his understanding that it was okay to forward fund current revenue, but not to forward fund a future appropriation. “I cannot say this clearly enough: If we do not fund education in this year’s budget, it is possible – if not even likely – that we will be facing an education funding disaster on July 1,” he said in a statement.