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Alaska Legislature

Alaska legislative committee agrees to initial allocation of federal aid funds

JUNEAU — A legislative committee agreed Friday to the allocation of about $125 million in federal coronavirus relief aid requested by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a fraction of the total request, as lawmakers said work continued in reviewing the remaining requests.

The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee is expected to meet again Wednesday. Senate President Cathy Giessel said she expects it will hear the administration's proposal for distributing community assistance and small business relief, two of the biggest-ticket items.

Giessel, a committee member, said the administration was working with lawmakers to address technical and legal issues that had been raised. At this point, she told reporters she saw “no imminent reason” for the full Legislature to reconvene, “but I never say never.”

The Anchorage Republican said there is a ratification process that would allow the Legislature, when it next meets, to ratify the action taken, “to close the loop on the legislative appropriation process.”

The Legislature recessed in late March amid coronavirus concerns; the clock on the session has not yet run out.

Committee vice-chair Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, said Friday’s action comes “during an unprecedented public health disaster” and does not represent an abrogation of the Legislature’s appropriating authority.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, expressed concern with the process, particularly related to community assistance.

“As much as I think many legislators are hesitant or reluctant to go back to Juneau to appropriate the federal dollars, I don’t see how you get around it,” he said, adding later: “The constitution says the Legislature appropriates.”

Dunleavy submitted his funding requests through the committee under a process set out in state law. It 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.

Questions at various points have been raised about the appropriateness of using the process for some of the items. Lauren Giliam, a Dunleavy spokeswoman, said by email the administration believes it is acting within the confines of the process.

Giessel said revisions made by the administration are improvements over the originals. Items agreed to Friday include funding for schools, transportation and public safety.

Committee chair Rep. Chris Tuck said he looked forward to Wednesday’s meeting and taking up the issues the committee can “legally address.”

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