An important question
As with almost anything of importance in Alaska, the question of whether it is constitutional for the Legislature to forward-fund K-12 education appears headed to court.
At its core is this: Can a Legislature appropriate money this year – money it does not have – to fund education for next year? The Legislature did just that last year when it set aside $1.7 billion in funding for education.
Does that bind Gov. Mike Dunleavy this year? Does it bind future lawmakers and future governors to decisions they had nothing to do with?
The House and Senate believe they can forward-fund; the governor, not so much. He says it is unconstitutional. The chambers have authorized the Legislative Council to sue him to resolve the issue.
Dunleavy has suggested lawmakers repeal the $1.7 billion in forward-funding and include education money in this year’s budget, which remains unapproved. Lawmakers have refused to do that.
A court will have to decide whether the Legislature’s constitutionally mandated power of appropriation includes forward-funding. It will have to weigh that against the constitution’s strictures on binding future Legislatures.
If the courts say lawmakers do, in fact, have power to forward-fund government, it will allow the Legislature to fund departments, programs and agencies for perhaps years in advance, even though they have no money to appropriate at the time.
It also severely would limit the governor’s power and tip the scales toward the legislative branch of government.
It is a serious question, a question with huge ramifications, that must be answered. – and soon.