Alaska governor calls budget passed this week ‘defective’

Alaska Governor Calls Budget Passed This Week ‘defective’
Becky Bohrer

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters during a news conference in Juneau, Alaska, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Dunleavy said the budget lawmakers approved this week is "defective" and said he is prepared to call another special session if action is not taken before the current special session expires Friday.

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy labeled as “defective” the state spending package passed by lawmakers this week and said he was prepared to call them into another special session next week if they do not act before the current special session expires Friday.

He said notices warning of possible layoffs were sent to state employees, with the new fiscal year two weeks away. He pinpointed as a main concern a failed effective date vote, which he said raises constitutional issues.

The House and Senate this week passed a state spending package, but the House failed to get the two-thirds support for a procedural effective date vote. Attorneys for the Legislature and the state Department of Law have offered differing views on what that could mean.

Megan Wallace, director of Legislative Legal Services, said the spending package includes a section that makes all the provisions retroactive to their intended effective dates.

“Because the bill contains a retroactivity provision for all appropriations in the bill, the executive branch may choose to give effect to the retroactivity clause, and allow state government to continue operating before the bill takes effect 90 days later, knowing that the appropriations are retroactive to their intended effective dates,” Wallace wrote in a memo to House Speaker Louise Stutes, dated Wednesday.

Wallace, however, noted the Dunleavy administration “may choose not to give effect to the retroactivity clause.” She also said there may be “unintended consequences” of a failure to adopt special effective dates “that are not immediately foreseeable.”

Under the state constitution, laws become effective 90 days after they are enacted, but the Legislature can provide a different effective date with a two-thirds vote in each chamber.

Deputy Attorney General Cori Mills said under a “plain application” of the constitution, the appropriations set out in the bill “are only authorized to be expended when that bill becomes law, which is 90 days after enactment.”

Mills, in a memo to Dunleavy’s chief of staff dated Thursday, wrote that a retroactivity clause has no effect until the bill becomes law.

The retroactivity clause “doesn’t save this,” she told reporters.

Some lawmakers expressed frustration with Dunleavy’s stance.

Rep. Zack Fields, an Anchorage Democrat, on social media said Dunleavy could ask minority House Republicans to rescind action on the effective date vote and to vote in favor.

“But he has not done that because he’s manufacturing a crisis to hold the whole state and economy hostage over the dividend,” Fields said.

Two of the minority’s 18 members voted for the effective date clause, which received 23 votes total but needed 27. A message seeking comment was left for House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton through an aide.

Minority House Republicans have expressed frustration with the budget process, including strings attached to funding for programs like the annual dividend paid to residents. Tilton has said she felt her caucus’ perspective wasn’t being heard.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat, called Dunleavy’s position a “radical reinterpretation” of the law.

Wallace, in her memo, said state attorneys general have opined “on several different occasions in several different contexts that funds may be obligated and expended prior to the actual effective date of an appropriation.”