Former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, who served under former Gov. Bill Walker, says the vetoes handed down by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy violate the Alaska Constitution’s mandate the state provide for the health, public safety and education of its citizens.
Lindemuth made the argument in an editorial published Monday in the Anchorage Daily News titled “Dunleavy’s vetoes violate the Alaska Constitution.” She outlined the constitutional requirements and explained how the vetoes, more than $400 million that were announced on Friday hitting Village Public Safety Officers, the University of Alaska and numerous health and education programs, are unconstitutional.
“Unlike every other state, Alaska’s constitution, the foundational document of our state government, mandates that the governor and the Legislature protect the health, safety and welfare of this great state for all Alaskans. That is the very purpose of our state government. The governor’s cuts are not only irresponsible, they are unconstitutional,” she wrote, later adding, “Taken alone, any one of these cuts may not violate the constitution. But collectively, the cuts are unconstitutional because they threaten public safety and the welfare of all Alaskans.”
The full article is a must-read, but here’s the vetoes she highlighted and how they run contrary to the Alaska Constitution:
- Dunleavy vetoed $6 million from the Village Public Safety Officer program on the same day that U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a law enforcement emergency in rural Alaska, making $10 million available to help the positions. “Ironically, while the federal funds cannot pay the salaries of the VPSO officers, the federal government will be providing millions of dollars to equip VPSO officers whose positions are no longer funded in the governor’s budget,” Lindemuth wrote.
- Dunleavy vetoed funding for early education programs, a move Lindemuth said will have long-term impacts on crime in Alaska. “As attorney general, one of the things I learned was that early education funding provided the biggest return on investment in our criminal justice system,” Lindemuth wrote. “Those children who are prepared for kindergarten through Head Start or other similar programs receive intervention early in life and are far more likely to become successful adults and avoid contacts with our criminal justice system later in life.”
- When it comes to Dunleavy’s cuts affecting health and welfare of Alaskans, Lindemuth has a lengthy list: “Gone are dental care, behavioral health grants, homeless assistance, elder assistance and other health programs for our neediest citizens. Gone is needed funding for the public defender’s agency defending low income Alaskans. Gone is critical funding for Alaska Legal Services that provides no-cost legal services to low-income Alaskans for other legal needs, including domestic violence intervention.” She says the cuts will be particularly felt by victims of domestic violence.
- There’s also Dunleavy’s largest veto of $130 million out of the University of Alaska and $50 million out of school bond debt reimbursement to local municipalities. Both education and the university are specifically outlined in the Alaska Constitution and Lindemuth argues that both vetoes will undermine the quality of each. “We are turning back the clock 50 years, and erasing the many years we spent developing a university we can be proud of.”
Why it matters
The justification the Dunleavy administration has put forward for the cuts, detailed in the change record detail document published by the Office of Management and Budget, is pretty short on details. It often relies on the boilerplate statement of “The State’s fiscal reality dictates a reduction in expenditures across all state agencies.”
The administration has also never been able to fully explain the impacts any of the cuts would have on Alaska or local communities since the governor’s initial budget proposal on Feb. 13. Many of the vetoes made good on that budget even though many never saw the budget as realistic or justified.
Dunleavy has also been keen on altering the Alaska Constitution. So far, he’s introduced measures that would enshrine the PFD, make it nearly impossible to implement taxes and by setting a strict spending limit that many legislators say is unrealistic. His constitutional adviser, Dick Randolph, from his transition team has also been an advocate for a constitutional convention to open the Alaska Constitution to sweeping changes.