A Juneau judge Thursday ruled the Legislature appropriately funded public education for the 2019-2020 school year under an education bill passed by the 2018 Legislature.

Superior Court Judge Daniel Schally’s decision sets up a certain date in Alaska Supreme Court, as Alaska Attorney General Kevin G. Clarkson promised an appeal.

Thursday’s ruling represents a continued battle over whether a governor can be bound by a previous Legislature’s appropriation.

The Legislature never included money for the fiscal year 2020 budget, saying it had already been funded under HB 287.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s attorney general, Clarkson, drafted a May opinion, calling the appropriation – also known as forward funding – unconstitutional, because “it contravenes the annual budgeting process.”

The Legislature sued the governor in July, saying the appropriation was valid and represented a separation of powers and authority the constitution affords the Legislature.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, chairs the Senate Education Committee and the Legislative Council, which authorized the suit. He hailed the decision.

“What the court has said is that the new governor doesn’t have the chance to go back veto what the prior governor had done, so that's a very important issue. I appreciate the court’s involvement,” he said. “This is a case where all three of us, all three branches of government are involved."

He added, “this really makes it very, very clear that there is a separation. The Legislature passes a budget, the governor can veto it if it’s in his year. The courts decide what the law truly is according to the constitution.”

While the two sides fought in court, Dunleavy agreed to continue funding the districts statewide, so school operations would be not disrupted.

In a prepared statement, Dunleavy stressed this issue is not about his how much gets funded but how the funding moves to the districts.

“This case is about the concept of future funding of education and the appropriation process in general and I look forward to clarifying this issue,” he said. “Regardless of the decision of the courts, I look forward to improving the educational outcomes for our children.

House Rep. Andy Josephson, a member of the House Finance Committee, said Dunleavy, “created multiple constitutional crises this year by attempting to erode the separation of powers that is the cornerstone of democracy.”

“We must always fight to protect strong executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and that is why the Legislature is defending its right to establish state priorities through the budget,” he said. “The Superior Court ruling is encouraging, and our attorneys are prepared to make this important case to the Supreme Court.”

The two sides took their argument to Juneau District Court on Oct. 4. Late Thursday, Judge Schally issued a 10-page ruling.

He concluded, “the Defendants have violated their duty to faithfully execute the law by failing to execute the forward funding appropriations at issue according to the statutory funding procedures...”

In an emailed statement, Clarkson said in promising an Alaska Supreme Court appeal that Schally’s decision “upends the appropriations process as we know it and could lead to one legislature and governor setting the budget five, six or more years in advance.”

“By the superior court’s decision, budgeting five years, six years, even 10 years out is fair game,” he wrote. “We fundamentally do not believe that is what our constitutional framers envisioned when they discussed an annual budgeting process. This issue is too important not to appeal and get final guidance from the Alaska Supreme Court, so we all know going forward what the rules are."

Schally also ordered the administration to continue funding school districts and issued an injunction prohibiting the Dunleavy administration from “impounding or withholding money from the appropriations.”

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