SCOAK: Funds can be set aside for schools, but future revenues cannot

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that the legislature cannot dedicate future revenues for future budgetary cycles.

    The Alaska Legislature can, however, set aside funds from the current budgetary cycle to be spent in future years for Alaska’s school districts. 

    In Dunleavy v. Alaska Legislative Council, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed a Superior Court decision and agreed with Attorney General Treg Taylor that the practice of appropriating future-year revenues — referred to as “forward funding” — is unconstitutional. 

    “The Alaska Supreme Court is upholding the Alaska Constitution with this opinion,” Taylor said. “The ruling says the legislature is always okay to spend money they have in this year or future years. What’s not okay is to spend money they don't yet have, because that takes away the funding prerogative from future legislatures.”

    The case centers on a bill the legislature passed in 2018 that sought to appropriate funds for education from revenues over the next two consecutive fiscal years, fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2020. The bill sought to authorize, more than a year in advance, the spending of future revenues to pay for education in 2020.

    In an opinion by Alaska Supreme Court Justice Peter J. Maassen, the court wrote that the drafters of the Alaska Constitution “envisioned an annual budget that comprehensively addresses the State’s current needs and the resources currently available to meet those needs.” The court concluded that forward funding “undercuts an important aspect of the constitutional design: protecting the State’s flexibility in the future to respond to then-present needs with then-present resources.” It explained that “allowing this form of forward funding for education a year in advance would open the door for forward funding in other contexts and more years in advance, weakening the annual budgeting process intended by the Constitution’s framers.” 

    The Court acknowledged the importance of providing school districts with advanced notice of their annual budget, but the Court emphasized that “there are avenues that do not raise constitutional concerns. For example, as was the practice from 2010 to 2014, the legislature may appropriate public education funds from the upcoming fiscal year to cover expenditures in the subsequent fiscal year. Unlike the forward funding practice at issue here, this would ensure that education funds were set aside well in advance of distribution — giving school districts time to plan their budgets — without appropriating funds from future budgetary cycles.”

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