The Office of Management and Budget would have unprecedented power under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget bill. It would give OMB Director Donna Arduin the ability to transfer funds within a department. The OMB is part of the governor’s office.
However, the Legislative Affairs’ non-partisan Legal Services team issued an opinion on the matter, calling this proposal “almost certainly” an “unlawful delegation” of power.
The language in question appears at the top of each departmental section in Sponsor Substitute Senate Bill 20, the governor’s budget bill.
“At the discretion of the Office of Management and Budget, funding may be transferred between all appropriations in the Department,” SSSB 20 says under each departmental section.
If the language were to pass, according to the Legal Services opinion, “even if the legislature made an appropriation to a specific program or for a specific purpose within a department, OMB could transfer some or all funds from that appropriation to another program or purpose within that same department.”
The opinion concludes, saying, “In sum, a court is unlikely to find that the proposed language in SSSB 20 is constitutional or permissible under (Alaska Statute), since the broad authority granted to OMB appears to essentially override most of the legislature’s power to appropriate.”
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, who sought the opinion said, he would be surprised if the language stayed in the budget.
“I think the most troubling thing is it’s an unprecedented power grab,” Wielechowski said, in an interview with the Empire. “I think it’s extremely dangerous…it clearly violates the (Alaska) Constitution. It’s so brazen I can’t even imagine why the governor would attempt it.”
He was concerned about the separation of powers, with the legislative branch being the appropriating branch.
“This language upends the principle of separation of powers and would allow the governor and his OMB Director to seize budgetary control from the legislative branch and make virtually any changes to the budget that they wish,” Wielechowski said in a press release.
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, who co-chairs the Finance Committee, was not worried about this language, though. He said the Legislative Branch has two main duties: appropriating money and writing statutes. So retaining the power of appropriation remains high on the Legislature’s priority list.
“If I was the governor, I would be highly supportive of a single appropriation for all my departments,” Stedman said. “As a Legislature, I’m not interested in changing that at all. Therein lies the separation of powers.”
Stedman said the he does not fault the governor for asking for this, but the Legislature will not relinquish its power of appropriation.
“This is a proposal,” Stedman said. “We’re not turning our appropriating power to the other branch of government any more than we’ll become the trial courts at Senate Finance. We have our separations; we’ll keep it that way.”
• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alaska_kev.