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7/6/2019
New territory

Alaska is in new territory.

The state Legislature is scheduled to convene in its second special session, and perhaps not its last this year, on Monday.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy called on the lawmakers to meet in Wasilla to decide the amount in the fall’s Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend payout.

The Legislature — most of it — contends that Juneau is the capital, which is where it will convene. At this writing, the House figured it had a quorum. Senate leadership said Friday it did, as well.

Both the executive and the legislative branches tout rules that they say support their decision as to where the session will be. For Southeasterners, Sen. Bert Stedman’s argument that the state’s capital is Juneau and that’s where the Legislature will convene tends to be the popular stance.

This isn’t the only conflict between the two branches of government since Dunleavy’s election last November. When he vetoed $444 million in the operating budget presented by the Legislature, he didn’t improve relations. He also is in conflict with lawmakers over pre-funded K-12 education, which ultimately will be decided by the Alaska Supreme Court. Dunleavy argues the Legislature shouldn’t have passed education funding in 2018 for fiscal 2020 despite former Gov. Bill Walker signing off on it.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, the presiding body for Alaska’s third branch of government, its role is to referee disputes between the other two branches. However, the executive branch did nothing to advance its stance when it vetoed judicial dollars, some of which Dunleavy says was based on a court decision with which he disagrees.

If Dunleavy didn’t like that decision — and he didn’t — and if the court acted like Dunleavy did when he reduced judicial dollars for a branch of government that already had cut its own budget in light of the state fiscal situation, then it would appear Dunleavy positioned himself poorly for the court’s respect.

That’s if the court conducted itself as Dunleavy did. Dunleavy knows that it doesn’t. The five members of the court are honorable justices, who will rule according to the law. If Dunleavy and lawmakers don’t like the law, then they can acquire the needed peer support and change it.

But, truthfully, none of this strife is necessary. In the end all it does is prolong decisions, making them more costly at a time when Dunleavy — and others — should be concerned about costs.

Like Stedman said during a recent visit to Ketchikan: Accusing one another of breaking the law is counterproductive. If necessary, simply ask the court who has the correct interpretation.

Similarly, setting up a situation that pits part of the Legislature against the other, or encourages some lawmakers to shut down to possible persuasion as a result, is a failure for leadership.

The state of affairs here is unsettling. Of course, the vetoes contribute to that. But beyond that, Alaska leaders still have to deal with a capital budget, a deadline for accepting federal dollars, establishing a permanent fund payout and the future of the permanent fund itself.

That list is sufficient to make the dispute over the location of the special session appear ridiculous.