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Governor Dunleavy: “Failing to Fund Education in Budget Ignores Constitution”

Posted, Edited By MARY KAUFFMAN


May 11, 2019
Saturday PM

(SitNews) Juneau, Alaska - During a Facebook Live Townhall last week, Alaska Governor Michael J. Dunleavy addressed questions pertaining to the absence of education funding in Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposals currently making their way through the Alaska State House and Senate. 

Heeding the advice and guidance of House Republicans and Kevin G. Clarkson Alaska Attorney General, Governor Dunleavy believes “failing to fund education in the budget ignores the constitution” and “creates a situation where education will not be funded after June 30, 2019.” As a result, Governor Dunleavy has called on the Legislature to avoid a precedent-setting constitutional standoff by funding education in the FY2020 budget, which he “will not veto… in any form or fashion.”

“We have said to legislators ‘Make sure you fund education, make sure it’s in the budget,’ because there’s questions right now as to whether there is funding in the budget, we’re having those discussions…,” said Governor Dunleavy. “Although we initially proposed reductions in education, we have said to legislative leadership ‘put the funding in, make sure there’s funding in the budget and we will not veto that funding in any form or fashion.’ We will let that funding go through, so we can have that conversation going into next year on what reforms we want to look at in education.”

Both the House and Senate FY2020 budget’s fail to include funding for education, a position based on the belief that future funding of education was made during the Second Session of the Thirtieth Legislature. However, the 2018 future funding provision failed to include actual dollars and clearly attempted to bind the hands of a future legislature and governor. According to an April 9, 2019 review by the Alaska Attorney General, that action violates the Alaska Constitution’s prohibition against dedicating future revenues and providing for an annual budget where the legislature and the governor can considering annual funding priorities.

“This year we won’t look at reducing the size of the education budget if they put the funding in, so that we can have the conversation over the summer into the fall, make this coming year an education reform year, where we all work together to see how we can change things to get the outcomes we know we should have for all kids, regardless of what school, school district or part of the state that they’re in,” said Governor Dunleavy.

Governor Dunleavy Holds Facebook Townhall

Governor Dunleavy commitment to fully fund K-12 education in Alaska is a direct response to a request made by the House Republican Caucus during their budget negotiations with the governor. This full-funding guarantee is a reversal from the governor’s previous proposed reduction of the Base Student Allocation (BSA).

On April 30th, 2019, the Alaska House Republicans called on the Senate and House Majorities to fully fund K-12 base student allocations in the FY20 operating budget. Recognizing the views of the House Republicans and the volume of legislative work currently on the table, Governor Dunleavy has offered to push the conversation on education funding and reform until next year.

Following the release of the Attorney General’s legal opinion on the constitutionality of education expenditures made by a previous legislature, members of the House Republican Caucus are pleading with the House and Senate Majorities not to underestimate the damage that will be caused by continued inaction on education funding.

Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham) on Thursday released a prepared statement responding to the attorney general’s assertion that a decision by the Legislature to forward-fund education is unconstitutional:

Edgmon wrote, “The governor is subjecting students, parents, and teachers to an unnecessary legal and political fight. 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.”

Governor Dunleavy asked the Attorney General for a legal opinion on whether an appropriation of future revenues for K-12 education spending for fiscal year 2020 included in an appropriation bill enacted in 2018 was consistent with the requirements of article IX of the Alaska Constitution.

Attorney General Clarkson was asked by the Governor "whether an appropriation of future revenues for K-12 education spending for fiscal year 2020 included in an appropriation bill enacted in 2018 was consistent with the requirements of article IX of the Alaska Constitution."

The Opinion finds that the appropriation violates the constitutional annual budgeting process, the dedicated funds clause, and the Executive Budget Act. This leads to the conclusion: "Absent an appropriation for FY20 K-12 education in the budget bills passed this legislative session, the only appropriation for education will be one that is unconstitutional in the view of the Department of Law."

The following are some excerpts from Alaska Attorney General Clarkson's May 8, 2019 Opinion: (Read the Full Opinion pdf)

"It is the opinion of the Department of Law that the appropriation is unconstitutional because it contravenes the annual budgeting process required by the Alaska Constitution and it is an improper dedication of funds."

"…the Court has stated that the legislature and the governor have a 'joint responsibility…to determine the State's spending priorities on an annual basis."

"The key to the Court's holding in Sonneman is that the anti-dedication clause is violated whenever the legislature attempts to restrict the use of future revenues to a single purpose—thus making the future funds immune from either a future legislature's appropriation power or a future executive branch's reach."

"Given these basic constitutional rules, it is our opinion that an appropriation that seeks to expend future money (in contrast to an appropriation authorizing revenues that have been received by the state in the current fiscal year to be spent in a future fiscal year) is unconstitutional."

Attorney General Clarkson had submitted a letter to legislative leadership on April 9, 2019 alerting the legislature to the potential constitutional problem with relying on the prior appropriation of future revenues. At the conclusion of the letter, he stated: "I am in the process of fully vetting this issue and plan on issuing a formal attorney general opinion on the subject in the near future. But I thought it was important to raise this concern with you now so you can consider this information as you continue your deliberations on the FY20 budget."

The process for a formal Attorney General Opinion involves multiple attorneys researching and reviewing the opinion, followed by a thorough review and editing directly by the Attorney General. The process occurs solely within the Department of Law and represents the Attorney General's legal opinion on the matter, not a policy position.

“After reading the new AG opinion, it’s clear that, not only are the House and Senate Majorities playing with fire, but they’re doing it covered in gasoline,” said Rep. Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage), House Minority Leader. “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.”

“Members who stand defiantly on the untenable position that education has already been funded are inviting disaster for no reason at all,” added Rep. DeLena Johnson (R-Palmer), member of the House Education Committee. “What if you’re wrong? What if the courts do find a past legislature’s forward appropriations to be unconstitutional? Think about what this will mean for teachers and students.”

“A past legislature cannot spend money for a future legislature – at least that’s what my copy of the Alaska Constitution says,” said Rep. Josh Revak (R-Anchorage), member of the House Education Committee.

Revak said, “The governor has made a promise that he will not veto education funding, and he understands the costs and consequences of going back on the promise he made to (the House Republicans) during budget negotiations. The House Majority’s fear of the governor is getting in the way of their better judgement when it comes to taking care of our kids’ education.”

The 2019 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn by Wednesday, May 15, 2019.



On the Web:

AG Opinion on constitutionality of prior education funding appropriation pdf


Source of News:

Office of Governor Michcael Dunleavy

Alaska Department of Law

Alaska House Republicans


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