The Alaska Legislature is suing Gov. Mike Dunleavy in Juneau District Court over education funding, a long-anticipated step in the lawmakers’ budget dispute with the administration.

The two sides have disagreed over how the Legislature last year funded education for the upcoming school year.

Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has called this type of forward funding unconstitutional, but lawmakers say the Tuesday suit represents a separation of powers issue between the legislative and executive branches.

“All of us have separate powers, separate authority,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, who serves as chair to the Legislative Council, a joint committee that authorized the lawsuit. “It is our authority to write a budget."

“The governor cannot spend any money we don't approve, we don't put in our budget," Stevens said. "That's really important, then the governor has the responsibility to enforce the budget that we pass, to spend that money make sure that everything works well, folks are hired and things go on and schools start at the right time.”

In early May, Clarkson issued a seven-page memo calling out the Legislature’s approach.

He wrote: “It is the opinion of the Department of Law that the appropriation is unconstitutional because it contravenes the annual budgeting process required by the Alaska Constitution and it is an improper dedication of funds.”

Later that month Dunleavy implored lawmakers to put the funding in the budget proposal, promising not to veto any of it.

“We have said to legislators, ‘Make sure you fund education, make sure it’s in the budget,’ because there’s questions right now as to whether there is funding in the budget, we’re having those discussions,” Dunleavy said during a Facebook live town hall type discussion.

Dunleavy went on to say, “Although we initially proposed reductions in education, we have said to legislative leadership ‘put the funding in, make sure there’s funding in the budget and we will not veto that funding in any form or fashion.’"

Funding is typically distributed monthly and won’t likely be held up while the case moves through the courts.

In a separate, joint motion also filed in Juneau Tuesday, both sides asked the court to authorize education funding with the suit pending.

The suit was expected by both sides, something noted by Dunleavy after he announced his budget vetoes.

Dunleavy had planned on withholding monthly payments to districts then both sides would ask a judge to authorize payments.

"We have a clear constitutional disagreement between the executive and legislative branches, but that should not impact our schools,” Clarkson said in a prepared statement, adding he would like to get the issue resolved as quickly as possible.

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