Legislators, Dunleavy administration expect school funds to be paid during potential lawsuit

The Alaska Legislative Council meets to discuss a lawsuit over education funding and other matters on June 13 in the Capitol. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

dispute between the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration over school funding isn’t likely to disrupt state payments to districts or affect the start of the school year. But both sides expect a lawsuit on the issue. And the state’s Department of Law says a court order will be needed to send the payments out.

The Legislative Council voted unanimously on June 13 to authorize a lawsuit over the issue.

The council handles some legislative business when the Legislature is not in session, including deciding whether to authorize lawsuits. It has 14 members, divided equally between Senate and House members.

State Sen. Gary Stevens, the council chair, said the lawsuit would defend the Legislature’s ability to pass laws that appropriate money for more than one year.

“The issue is the separation of powers,” said Stevens, a Kodiak Republican. “And it’s our job as a Legislature to write a budget to allocate money to fund the budget, and it’s the governor’s job to manage that.”

Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) in 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The Legislature passed a law last year that was intended to appropriate the bulk of school funding for the school year that just ended and next year.

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson maintains that the funding for next year isn’t valid. He said the state constitution requires appropriations be done each year. And he said past legislatures can’t bind future legislatures and governors.

While Dunleavy called on the Legislature to add school funding in the operating budget it recently passed, lawmakers chose not to. They maintained that last year’s law didn’t bind the Legislature, but the Legislature chose to continue to follow it.

A Department of Law statement said the administration believes it can work with the Legislature “to ensure the lawsuit proceeds as quickly as possible without impacting Alaska’s children and school district. This would require having a court order in place to allow education funding to be sent out on a monthly basis during the litigation.”

The Legislature could file a lawsuit around July 15, when the first payment of the year normally is sent to districts.