AK: Governor ‘resolute’ in face of Medicaid lawsuit

JUNEAU — This week the Alaska Legislature announced that it plans to sue Governor Bill Walker in response to his decision to expand Medicaid without legislative approval. The suit is intended to halt the planned September 1st implementation of expansion until the Court can rule on the constitutionality of the Governor’s action.

The decision of the legislature was announced after a closed-door meeting of the Legislative Council, a joint committee charged with providing technical assistance and administrative review during the interim.

In a statement, House Speaker Mike Chenault (R-Kenai) tried to draw a line between the suit and opposition to Medicaid expansion:

Today’s Legislative Council action is not about the merits of whether or not to accept Medicaid expansion, it is about the process the governor chose to use: expanding to include optional groups falls under the purview of the Legislature. This is about protecting our role and the Alaska Constitution.

Senate President Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage) added:

The framers of Alaska’s Constitution wisely gave the Legislature sole authority to appropriate state funds because they believed a healthy separation of powers was vital for our democracy. If we don’t stand up for our constitutional duties as a co-equal branch of government, then we set a dangerous precedent where governors believe they can spend money and change the law without legislative approval.

Members of the minority were less convinced that the decision was driven by the desire for constitutional clarity. Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) said in a statement:

The more-than-ample Medicaid hearings and two independent studies have confirmed that Medicaid expansion will bring new money and jobs into our state at a crucial time, and at the same time will provide thousands of Alaskans with access to healthcare. This tells me the opposition is political and ideological, and that’s no way to make good policy for our state.

Governor Walker called a press conference soon after the Council’s announcement. Audibly upset, the Governor doubled down on his position, stating, “I could not be more resolute.”

The Governor went on to express his disappointment in the Legislature’s decision, stating that the lawsuit will cost approximately $1 million for both sides to adjudicate.

Walker appeared genuinely surprised by the suit, citing a productive conversation with Rep. Mike Hawker (R-Anchorage) prior to the Governor’s July 16th announcement that he would expand Medicaid. Though Rep. Hawker had a different interpretation of that meeting.

The legislature has retained Washington, D.C. based law firm Bancroft, LLC as well as Anchorage firm Holmes Weedle and Barcott.