State lawmakers have put Gov. Mike Dunleavy on notice: They are willing to go to court over a weeks-long education funding battle that may land in the Alaska Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the House and Senate, through separate votes on a special resolution, authorized a special committee made up of members from each chamber to sue Dunleavy.

The issue is funding for the upcoming school year, which lawmakers believe has already been funded last year under House Bill 287 — but Dunleavy’s legal team says this kind of forward funding is unconstitutional.

Shortly after the vote, leaders from the House and Senate gathered in the speakers chambers for a rare joint news conference led by Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham. 

“We have stood firmly on the forward funding that we appropriated last year for this coming year,” said Giessel on the 13th day of the special session that Dunleavy called for on May 16. “We are hoping very much that no lawsuit will be necessary, but in the event that it is, the motions that were passed by the House and Senate today will assure that we can go forward in challenging that, and we can finally settle this question about forward funding.”

The Legislative Council, which can take action and spend money during the interim as well as during session, received the authority Tuesday morning.

The council’s chair, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said it would be no earlier than June 15 before any lawsuit would be filed as he wants to give the governor time to provide the funding.

“Basically, I think it’s an issue of separation of powers as has been mentioned,” he said. “It’s crucial to me having been in the Legislature now 19 years that we not give away willy-nilly the authority and the responsibility of the Legislature. "

House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, says the steps taken are misguided and he challenged the motives behind the resolution. 

“This is a fight with this governor,” he said. “It’s not a separations of power thing. It’s a fight with this governor and that’s unfortunate. Instead of working to come to some sort of solution on not just this but other aspects of the state, they decided instead, they're just going to war against this governor.”

Later, Dunleavy said he expected lawmakers to take this step. It comes several weeks after the governor promised not to veto any education appropriation lawmakers would place in the budget. It also follows respective legal teams issuing opposing memos on forward funding.

Already in this special session, the House rejected Dunleavy’s HB 1001, which would have repealed last year’s appropriation and re-instated the money in this year’s budget bill — HB 39 — for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Dunleavy on Tuesday suggested lawmakers could fund education in HB 39, but leave out the additional $30 million also funded last year, so the courts could use that sum to address the constitutional underpinnings of forward funding.

“We'd just like to get that off the table,” he said,  “and then clarify by potentially holding back on some of the funding, on the $30 million, just to initiate a suit, almost a friendly suit just so we can get clarification so when we’re moving forward on things.”

Lawmakers have until the end of the special session on June 14 to agree on several budgets and the size of the Permanent Fund dividend.

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