Governor threatens no school funding after July 1, escalating fight with Alaska Legislature

May 23, 2019 | ADN | James Brooks

JUNEAU — A member of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration said Tuesday the state will stop payments to local school districts unless the Alaska Legislature changes its opinion on funding schools in advance.

The statement widens the chasm between the governor and the Legislature in the ongoing special session, which was called to address crime, the Permanent Fund dividend, state budget and education funding.

This dispute is about paying in advance for education: Is it legal for the Legislature to set an amount one year in advance, even if it doesn’t have the money on hand right now? The governor’s administration has said it is not legal and therefore cannot be paid. Legislators, except for the Republican House minority, say it is legal and therefore must be paid.

On one side of the dispute is a governor who feels he is being locked out of the education budget. On the other are lawmakers who worry the governor could use this strategy to overturn not just education funding but many other laws. Without a legislative solution, the issue will head to the courts, a process that could take months to resolve.

Lacey Sanders, budget director for the Office of Management and Budget, said Tuesday that if a solution doesn’t come before July 1, the start of the fiscal year, the state will not pay local school districts according to the formula that gives them money for each enrolled student.

“It is my understanding that funding will not be distributed on … July 15 when funding will go out to school districts, without a valid appropriation,” she said.

Matt Shuckerow, Dunleavy’s press secretary, confirmed the governor’s position.

“The viewpoint at this point from the governor is that without a valid appropriation, without money in the budget, funding will not be going out,” he said.

That interpretation includes even temporary adherence to the Legislature’s position during a lawsuit.

Sanders’ statement escalates the dispute from one about education funding to one of primacy between the executive and legislative branches of Alaska’s government, which are supposed to be equal under the Alaska Constitution.

“Sounds like a game of chicken,” said Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, on Tuesday.

After Sanders’ statement, the House Finance Committee rejected legislation that would have legislators side with the governor, effectively demolishing one possible bridge between lawmakers and the governor.

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