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Alaska Legislature

Responding to Dunleavy vetoes, Alaska Supreme Court asks lawmakers to restore cost-of-living increases for staff

Alaska Supreme Court chamber. (Bill Roth / ADN)

JUNEAU — In an unusual message Wednesday, the Alaska Supreme Court responded to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes and asked the Alaska Legislature to restore cost-of-living increases vetoed by the governor.

In part, the message says, “In fairness we urge the legislature to restore the cost of living allowances that will return you to equal footing with employees of the executive and legislative branches.”

The message was sent to court employees as well as members of the media.

The increases, worth about $1.3 million, would have kept court system employees paid the same as their counterparts in the executive branch. The court system’s employees are nonunion and now will be paid less than their union counterparts in the other branch. Despite the letter’s statement, legislative employees have not received a cost-of-living adjustment since 2015.

The message also responds to the governor’s decision to veto $334,700 from the court system’s budget in retaliation for the Supreme Court’s legal decisions upholding abortion rights in Alaska. In documents provided by the governor’s office, the stated reason for the veto is that it is equivalent to the amount of money spent by the state on abortion services for poor Alaskans each year.

In the letter, the Supreme Court says, “Legislators, governors, and all other Alaskans certainly have the right to their own opinions about the constitutionality of government action, but ultimately it is the courts that are required to decide what the constitution mandates. In a democracy based on majority rule, it is important that laws be interpreted fairly and consistently. We assure all Alaskans that the Alaska Court System will continue to render independent court decisions based on the rule of law, without regard to the politics of the day.”

Mara Rabinowitz, special projects coordinator for the court system, declined a request for an interview about the message but did offer additional information. The court system does not typically grant interviews.

Under the Alaska Constitution, the Supreme Court is in charge of administration for the court system, a separate but equal branch of state government alongside the legislative and executive branches.

“At its most basic,” the Supreme Court wrote, “this means that the legislature makes the law, the governor enforces the law, and the supreme court, when faced with a constitutional challenge to a law, is required to decide it.”

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