Attorney general concocts flimsy budget claim, hoping to give Dunleavy veto material

The Alaska Legislature approved a bill a year ago aimed at solving a recurrent problem in education—the habit of approving a budget so late in the game that school districts have to give layoff notices to teachers.

No one said anything that ending this annual outbreak of uncertainty was unconstitutional because it was not. It was an appropriation to the public education fund with a delayed effective date.

The Legislature approved the bill and Gov. Bill Walker signed it. Both Democrats and Republicans thought it was a great idea.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, now the lieutenant governor, proudly mentioned his support for “early and forward funding of education” in his campaign material.

He voted for HB 287, along with 14 other senators and 31 members of the House. Had Sen. Mike Dunleavy not quit the Senate to run for governor, he probably would have voted for it.

It was a way of funding education far enough in advance to give school districts some fiscal stability, a logical alternative to the past practice of delay, which made it hard to recruit and keep qualified personnel. In many years school districts have had to prepare multiple budgets because they didn’t know what might come out of Juneau.

The bill last year was a smart move by the state.

Enter Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, who has put his name to a flimsy argument claiming that forward funding of education is unconstitutional. It’s a political power play, nothing else.

The memo was concocted as an attempt to give Dunleavy more leverage in forcing the Legislature to advance his constitutional amendments. Holding schools hostage will do harm to Alaskans. It will do nothing to boost the governor’s plan.

Former Rep. Paul Seaton, who led the fight for this a year ago, has no doubt that forward funding is legal, sensible and the right thing to do. He said we’ve had many years in which districts had to give termination notices to staff members because of delays in Juneau.

Seaton’s opinion on all of this is a good deal more valuable and logical than Clarkson’s.

Seaton said the action was not a case of the 2018 Legislature improperly binding the 2019 Legislature to take a specific action. The Legislature is free to change the appropriation if it wishes, but that’s not going to happen.

The Legislature has talked about forward funding education for more years than the number of weeks that Donna Arduin has been in Juneau.

“Passing House Bill 287 means there will be no teacher layoff notices this year due to late funding of the budget, and school districts can plan for a status quo budget. Our students deserve good schools staffed by teachers focused on education. They should not be worried about their future because of protracted budget negotiations in Juneau,” Seaton said in a statement last year.

Dermot Cole6 Comments