Lawmakers will come back to the Alaska State Capitol, seen here on May 28, 2021, for the second special session of the Legislature this year. Gov. Mike Dunleavy asked lawmakers to resolve what he called a defective budget, leading to a legal dispute between lawmakers and the administration. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)

Lawmakers will come back to the Alaska State Capitol, seen here on May 28, 2021, for the second special session of the Legislature this year. Gov. Mike Dunleavy asked lawmakers to resolve what he called a defective budget, leading to a legal dispute between lawmakers and the administration. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)

Second special session starts as legal dispute continues

Political division has turned into legal action

Lawmakers will start the second special session of the summer Wednesday after Gov. Mike Dunleavy said it would be illegal for him to sign the budget sent to him as it lacked critical components.

Dunleavy said he’s calling lawmakers back to Juneau to pass a budget and avoid a government shutdown when the state’s fiscal year ends at midnight June 30, but lawmakers contend they’ve passed a budget and there are tools available to a governor to avoid a shutdown.

Both bodies of the Legislature passed a budget bill last week, but the House of Representatives failed to secure enough votes needed for an effective date clause. Without that clause, Dunealvy and Attorney General Treg Taylor argue it would violate the constitution for a governor to sign a budget bill.

Taylor’s office announced Monday it filed a lawsuit against the Legislature to get a decision from a superior court for clarification as quickly as possible to resolve the issue before a government shutdown on July 1. Also, Monday the Alaska Landmine news blog posted a response Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger gave to a June 18, letter from the governor and the Attorney General.

“Please note I am not allowed to engange in ex parte communications with any party pending legal action,” Bolger wrote in a letter forwarded to Stutes and Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna. “I’m sure the Attorney General’s office is familiar with the proper procedures to bring your attention to the appropriate forum.”

[Courts asked to clarify budget dispute]

House Speaker Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, called the governor’s reaching out to Bolger, “inappropriate and troubling,” and said there was a borrowing provision in the state constitution Dunleavy could use to avoid a state shutdown.

“Once the effective date clause is resolved and the shutdown is averted,” Stutes said in a statement, “the House Coalition is fully committed to finding a permanent solution to the PFD this year that Alaskans can support.”

Stutes cited Article Nine, Section 10, of the Alaska State Constitution which reads: “The State and its political subdivisions may borrow money to meet appropriations for any fiscal year in anticipation of the collection of the revenues for that year, but all debt so contracted shall be paid before the end of the next fiscal year.”

Dunleavy and Attorney General cite Article Two, Section 18: “Laws passed by the legislature become effective ninety days after enactment. The legislature may, by concurrence of two-thirds of the membership of each house, provide for another effective date.”

A spokesperson for the Senate Majority did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Former Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindenmuth and Scott Kendall, former chief of staff to Gov. Bill Walker, wrote a public letter calling Dunleavy’s lawsuit, “constitutionally defective.” Both Lindenmuth and Kendall were involved in the campaign to recall Dunleavy.

At a news conference last week Dunleavy called the budget “defective” and called on lawmakers to renegotiate a budget more lawmakers were comfortable voting for. But lawmakers say the governor is using the shutdown to advocate for a larger PFD without offering a coherent fiscal plan to pay for it.

Dunleavy has proposed constitutional amendments he says will resolve the state’s long-term fiscal issues but lawmakers from both parties have been critical of the assumptions behind those proposals.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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