JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A legislative committee set aside lingering legal questions and agreed to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plans for $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
Many Legislative Budget and Audit Committee members Monday said getting the money out was more important than haggling over legal authority for the spending, KTOO Public Media reported.
The committee, made up of House and Senate members, previously agreed to Dunleavy’s plans for about $125 million, a fraction of his total request, while working through remaining items.
Big-ticket items addressed Monday involved $586.6 million for communities; $290 million for small business assistance; and $100 million for fisheries.
State law allows a governor to submit to the committee plans to accept and spend additional federal or other program funds on a budget item. It delays for 45 days use of the funds unless the committee earlier agrees.
The Legislature’s legal adviser had questioned whether spending not tied to budget items could be approved through the committee process. Rep. Chris Tuck, the committee chair, argued the full Legislature must convene to approve spending in those cases.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman called for action by the committee.
“We need to say, ‘We are the decision makers, let’s make some decisions today,’” Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat, said. “The people of Alaska want us — they’ve elected us — to make these decisions. Now, let’s get to business and let’s vote and get this thing done.”
Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, ruled the contentious items out of order but was overruled. The items were later approved without objection.
Dunleavy on Tuesday thanked lawmakers, calling this “an extraordinary time in our state.”
The Legislature could vote to ratify the committee’s actions when it next convenes, supporters of the action said. The Legislature recessed after passing a budget in late March. The 121-day session clock, set forth under the state constitution, expires May 20.
“There’s no time to spare,” Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, said in a statement. “We’re in the midst of an unprecedented public health and economic crisis.”
Other items agreed to Monday included $49 million for airports, $10 million related to homelessness and $3 million for the Whittier tunnel and other transportation issues.