The Alaska Department of Law is willing to spend up to $600,000 on an outside law firm that would help defend Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to change the way the state collects union dues.

The agency on Thursday issued a request for proposals, estimating costs to be between $500,000 and $600,000.

It also comes two days after a superior court judge granted a request to block Dunleavy’s administrative order calling for changes next month.

The proposal calls for firms to meet certain criteria including:

  • Attorneys admitted to U.S. Supreme Court Bar;
  • An office in the Washington-DC metro area;
  • Have appeared before the Supreme Court

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, questioned the expense and the need to use a Washington D.C. firm at a time when Dunleavy is calling for drastic cuts to balance the budget.

“I guess the fiscal crisis is over,” Wielechowski said. “I guess they figured out the fiscal situation that we're in and they are willing to spend $600,000 for a $600 an hour lawyer back in Washington D.C. to fight a case in the United States Supreme Court."

He added, “At a time when the administration is cutting education, cutting public safety, cutting university, cutting the marine highway services, here they are somehow magically able to find half a million dollars to attack Alaska unions, which are the only ones that are out there fighting to protect good wages, good jobs, good pensions, good benefits. It shows where their priorities are.”

Driving the dispute is Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s interpretation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as the Janus case.

Clarkson said in a written opinion the state does not comply with the Supreme Court’s decision that non-union public employees don’t have to pay dues or agency fees representing them.

“The RFP is for legal counsel to assist in defending litigation brought against the State by local unions challenging the State’s interpretation and implementation of the Janus decision,” said Assistant State Attorney Maria Bahr. “The Department of Law is collaborating with outside counsel on various aspects of the litigation, depending on staffing needs."

The published deadline for proposals is 4 p.m. Dec. 2. The state expects to award a contract by Dec. 6 with a start date of Dec. 18.

Wielechowski, a member of the state Senate Finance Committee, said he expects push back from respective finance committees on this expense.

“This will be an absolute fight to get this funding,” he said. “[...] You can bet there's going to be a fight on this.”

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