Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Alaska attorney general Treg Taylor filed a lawsuit Monday against the legislative affairs agency to have the courts weigh in on the budget dispute between the legislature and the Governor.
In a release from the Department of Law, Taylor said, “When there is a dispute between branches of the government, we need the courts to step in. The executive and legislative branches need clarity now from the courts as to whether the governor can, if the bill is enacted, spend money immediately despite HB 69 not taking effect until 90 days after enactment.”
The suit asks a Superior Court judge to decide whether the governor may legally sign a budget that lacks an effective date clause.
Assistant attorney general Grace Lee, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law said “What we’re trying to do is get an answer to a question that everybody has, and since the Legislature and executive branch disagree, we’re looking to the courts to get an answer.”
Members of the state house majority say the budget is written in such a way that if Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs it without the effective date clause, a government shut down would not happen.
Dunleavy has called the Alaska Legislature into special session beginning Wednesday in Juneau to address the effective date clause and other outstanding issues.
"The governor has called the legislature back into a special session starting tomorrow to address the budget and we hope that this resolves the issue," Lee said. "But in the meantime, we have a looming constitutional crisis and dispute over what is required. The lawsuit is meant to provide clarity and ensure the legislature and governor know what their constitutional obligations are."
Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat, said the lawsuit was akin to a "blow below the belt."
"This is such an odd thing," Kiehl said. "Constitutionally he can't sue the Legislature, it is article 3 section 16. I don't know what he is doing. He's the executive branch, the executive branch can't sue the legislature. There is not time to resolve a lawsuit before a government shutdown.
Dunleavy had declared a proposed state budget “defective” last week.
“I agree with the Attorney General’s decision to petition the court on this important matter,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy in the Department of Law release. “We need the third branch of government to step in and resolve this dispute to ensure we all carry out our constitutional duties appropriately. I will not ignore the constitution. I, along with my legal team, believe the Legislature should not ignore the constitution. The Attorney General’s actions are consistent with my goal of doing everything possible to avoid a government shutdown.”
The motion for summary judgement was filed late Monday afternoon along with a motion for expedited consideration. Taylor requests a decision on the Motion for Summary Judgement no later than Wednesday, June 30.
The motion notes that “if the circumstances do not change, either the executive branch or the legislative branch will be in violation of the law on July 1.
If the Attorney General is correct that a budget effective on July 1 is required to authorize expenditure of state funds, the Legislative Affairs Agency will have spent state funds in violation of article IX, section 13, which mandates that ‘no money shall be withdrawn from the treasury except in accordance with appropriations made by law.’
If the Legislative Affairs Agency is correct, the executive branch will have unnecessarily implemented a partial shutdown and, among other actions, unnecessarily suspended spending onstage programs and laid off state employees.”
Kiehl stated there is not time to resolve a lawsuit before a government shutdown.
"So we have to stay focused on working as legislators to get the effective date," Kiehl said. "Because the governor threw this late hit after the whistle. The voting was done before he decided he needed to change how we read the law for 40 years. So at this point, he has done it. We have to get that effective date passed and that's where the focus is now."
When asked if he expected a quicker resolution, Kiehl said, "The negotiations haven't gotten a deal yet, still talking."
Alaska’s fiscal year starts July 1, and in order for state services to operate past that date, the state needs to have a budget determining how much money is available to spend on those services.
According to the Alaska constitution a sitting governor cannot sue the Legislature.
Lee stated that Monday’s suit was filed by the attorney general, not the governor, as a public interest case.
"The Attorney General has the authority and duty to bring cases that are in the public interest," Lee said. "The passing of a constitutional state budget is extremely important and clearly in the public interest."
Last week, Alaska’s House and Senate passed a budget, but minority Republicans in the House opposed it and caused the failure of a key clause that dictates when the budget takes effect. That clause, known as the “effective date clause,” needs 27 votes in the 40-member House. It received only 23 — 21 from members of the House’s coalition majority, and two from Republicans who sit in the minority.
Without the clause, the budget takes effect in September.
Lee was asked how soon the case could reach the Supreme Court.
"A superior court decision was requested by noon on June 30," she said. "At this point, we can't speculate on what an Alaska Supreme Court case might look like. We need to get through superior court first."
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