Alaska Legislature

Court case may decide whether situation that led Alaska to brink of shutdown could happen again

Attorneys representing the Alaska Legislature and Alaska Department of Law will meet in court July 23 in a hearing that may decide whether the state could repeat the circumstances that nearly led to a government shutdown this week.

In a hearing Tuesday, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Herman Walker declined to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Treg Taylor against an agency of the Alaska Legislature.

Taylor last week sued the Legislative Affairs Agency in an attempt to have the courts decide whether Alaska’s state budget can take effect in less than 90 days, even if lawmakers fail to approve what’s known as the “effective date clause.”

This year, Republicans in the state House attempted to force a vote on various long-term fiscal measures by denying the House the 27 votes it needed to allow the budget to take effect July 1.

Even though legislators have since approved the clause and a shutdown has been averted, Walker said the case is not moot.

“This is an issue that can come up again,” Walker said.

[Alaska House votes to avert government shutdown, send budget to Gov. Dunleavy]

The case could still be dismissed on constitutional grounds. Alaska’s constitution specifically denies the governor the power to sue the Legislature. In legal documents, Taylor says a lawsuit is in the public interest. That claim has been contested by attorneys representing the Legislative Affairs Agency, who argue the case should be dismissed.

If the case is allowed to continue, and if judges rule in favor of Taylor’s interpretation of the law, the Alaska Legislature would need to finish work on the state budget by April 2 each year or obtain a difficult two-thirds supermajority in both the House and Senate.

Members of the House’s coalition majority said other provisions of the budget negate the need for the clause, but Gov. Mike Dunleavy, relying on advice from the Department of Law, said he viewed the budget as “defective” and “unconstitutional” without the clause.

That forced legislators into last-minute negotiations to avoid a government shutdown, before a deal was reached Monday.

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