Alaska’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the state Legislative Affairs Agency over the legality of the governor signing a budget bill that does not specify a start date for when the fiscal 2022 spending plan will take effect.
Attorney General Treg Taylor is requesting a decision by June 30.
The Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency is the Legislature’s nonpartisan agency responsible for providing legal services and other support. The agency has indicated that the operating budget can take effect July 1 — the first day of fiscal year 2022 — without a start date adopted by the Legislature.
In a motion for summary judgment, Taylor seeks to “resolve a dispute over the date upon which the 2022 operating budget … would authorize the expenditure of funds from the state treasury,” according to the lawsuit. It is being heard in Anchorage Superior Court.
The attorney general is asking whether the governor may legally sign a budget bill that lacks a start date.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared the state budget “defective,” after the House failed to pass a procedural measure that lacks a so-called effective date.
Opposition from Republican lawmakers caused passage of the effective date to fail by four votes in the House.
Sixteen GOP lawmakers voted against the effective date clause. They are Reps. Ben Carpenter, Mike Cronk, David Eastman, Ronald Gillham, DeLana Johnson, James Kaufman, Christopher Kurka, Kevin McCabe, Ken McCarty, Tom McKay, David Nelson, Mike Prax, George Rauscher, Laddie Shaw, Cathy Tilton and Sarah Vance.
Without a specified start date, the budget bill will become “effective” in 90 days, which is in September, according to the governor’s office.
The attorney general’s lawsuit notes that under the Alaska Constitution, laws take effect 90 days after they are enacted, unless the Legislature by a two-thirds vote declares another start date.
Dunleavy has ordered the Alaska Legislature back into special session Wednesday to address the effective date and other issues.
Reaching an agreement may be a challenge.
Republican Rep. Mike Prax of North Pole said in a phone interview that he will not vote for an effective date unless Democrats agree to adopt the governor’s plan to put the Permanent Fund into the Constitution.
The proposal requires a two-thirds majority to advance. It would then go to statewide ballot.
"The House Minority exercised our strength in the closing days of this special session to influence the full House to engage in a serious conversation about [adopting] a long-term fiscal plan," Rep. Tom McKay said.
"Many times in government, it takes a strong action to bring about necessary change, and as such, that is why my no votes ... were necessary," said McKay, who opposed the effective date and budget passage.
Republican Rep. Mike Cronk said in a phone interview that House Democrats “strong-armed the budget” into adoption without allowing the GOP House minority to “be part of the process.”
“We wanted to have a long-term fiscal plan in place for Alaska,” said Cronk, who voted against the effective date. “This is the only way to bring [the state spending plan] back to the table and have a conversation.”
Cronk said he believes that the “full statutory amount of the Permanent Fund dividend should be $3,500,” not the $1,100 in the compromise budget agreement between the House and Senate.
He accused Democratic lawmakers of refusing to advance Dunleavy’s proposal to put the Permanent Fund in the Constitution and split the earnings — 50-50 — between funding dividends and state services.
“When you are not in the majority, you do not have much say,” Cronk said. “We want a voice at the table, and they have chosen to ignore us.”
Rep. Ken McCarty said: "The question of the effective date for me can be summed up with this thought: I voted no on a budget that did not balance and was taking money in a shell game manner; thus I voted no on the effective date of an ineffective application time of an ineffective budget.''
House Speaker Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, maintains that the governor has the authority to sign the budget bill without an effective date, citing legal opinions and precedent to support her assertion.
"Alaska just got through one of the toughest years in our history, and the governor should stop using our limited time and money on a lawsuit that will drive us one step closer to a state-imposed shutdown," Stutes said Tuesday.
The Dunleavy administration, meanwhile, sent layoff notices to Alaska’s 15,000 workers, warning of a potential government shutdown without a fiscal 2022 budget in place.
If a spending plan is not enacted by July 1, the state will proceed to lay off workers and suspend some services.
Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.