JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska resident is challenging the constitutionality of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plans to distribute federal coronavirus relief aid.
Eric Forrer said the process used to approve the spending was improper.
Court records show the lawsuit was filed in state court Thursday, days after a legislative committee signed off on the most recent list of requests. The lawsuit names the state and Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney as defendants.
Department of Law spokesperson Maria Bahr said by email that the department will review the case and respond “in the appropriate time.”
The lawsuit could be nudging the Legislature, which has been in recess since late March amid coronavirus concerns, to reconvene.
In a statement, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said it “appears imminent the Legislature will have to reconvene to approve the COVID-19 money. The details are still being worked on, and more will be known tomorrow.”
The constitution allows for regular sessions of up to 121 days, with an option to extend for an additional 10. The 121-day mark is May 20.
Dunleavy submitted his plans for distributing federal aid dollars to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee under a process set out in law. That process 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 committee, composed of House and Senate members, has agreed to more than $1 billion in spending plans. It agreed to a large tranche of requests Monday despite concerns about whether the process could appropriately be used for some of the items. Some lawmakers have argued the full Legislature should reconvene to address those items.
Legislative Legal Services Director Megan Wallace, in a May 5 memo to Rep. Chris Tuck, the committee’s chair, said if the committee agreed to items that had been flagged as problematic, she would recommend the Legislature ratify the expenditures if it supports them.
The lawsuit points out as problematic plans for community, small business and fisheries aid.
Forrer said he knows communities are hurting. “But breaking the constitutional structure is not the answer,” he said.
Forrer, a former member of the state Board of Regents, sued the state under Dunleavy’s predecessor over plans to use bonding to pay off the state’s oil and gas tax credit obligations. A Superior Court judge dismissed the case, a decision that was appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.