Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that Alaska sent layoff notices to thousands of state employees Thursday after the Legislature delivered a “defective budget” to his office for signing into law.
Without a budget for fiscal year 2022, Dunleavy said the state was legally mandated to notify employees about the possibility of layoffs. The state employs about 15,000 workers, according to the Alaska Department of Administration website.
“We received a defective budget,” Dunleavy told reporters at a press conference. “There were issues with the effective date clause as well as the reverse sweep.”
The Alaska Legislature approved a budget this week that it forwarded to the governor. But the House failed to pass a measure that specified the spending plan should take effect on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Without the procedural vote, the budget bill is scheduled to become effective 90 days after it was enacted, which is in September.
“We have asked leaders to work with their caucuses to fix these issues because we still have until 11:59 p.m. on Friday,” Dunleavy said, referring to the official end of the special session. “They are engaged in that process, so there is still hope we can get some things fixed.”
House Speaker Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, objected to the governor's action but also said "we can fix this tomorrow."
"It’s clear this budget is enough to avoid a shutdown, and it’s hard to comprehend the governor’s decision to ignore more than four decades of legal advice and longstanding precedent,'' Stutes said in a prepared statement. "However, in light of the governor’s interpretation, the House Majority stands ready to reaffirm our yes votes in hopes that the minority will join us."
The House and Senate also did not approve a reverse sweep, another procedural vote that allows reserves to continue funding specified programs for the next fiscal year.
They include state-funded college scholarships for Alaska’s high school seniors, the Power Cost Equalization Program and partial funding of the Permanent Fund dividend.
Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat, said he believes there was a faction within the House GOP that "decided they wanted a fight, and this is the fight they chose."
In the Senate, he said that key support was absent for the vote. The measure required three-quarters majority in each chamber to pass.
Dunleavy said he will call legislators back into session if budget problems are not fixed by the Friday deadline.
Legislators would return to Juneau on June 23 to complete the state’s business.
State employees will be temporarily laid off and many state services will cease to operate if the budget is not completed by July 1, the governor said.
Kawasaki said in a phone interview that "speaking on behalf of the Interior delegation, we would be willing to come in ... We don't want the public to be hindered or for people to be pink-slipped."
Dunleavy described the Legislature’s work developing and passing “a functioning budget” as “really the only constitutional duty a Legislature has.”
Dunleavy said he held the press conference to keep the public informed about the budget problems and potential layoffs.
Contact Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.