Capitol Report: May 12, 2020

May 12, 2020

Capitol Report: Federal Coronavirus Funding

Yesterday, the Alaska Legislature approved the final portions of Governor Dunleavy’s plan to distribute $1.5 billion the State of Alaska has received in federal Coronavirus financial assistance. This action, by the Legislative Budget & Audit Committee (LB&A), comes after three weeks of review and negotiations by the Legislature and the administration.
Federal Funding Spending Plan Approved
The Governor proposed his original spending plan on April 21. Citing the need to expedite deploying federal funds, the Governor submitted a letter to LB&A requesting funds be appropriated through unique mechanism in state law called the Revised Program Legislative (RPL) process. This allows for the state to accept additional federal funds outside of the traditional appropriation process. Using this mechanism for such large and sweeping appropriations raised several legal and technical questions. Lawmakers have been discussing those issues in hearings of LB&A during the past several weeks.
LB&A is a joint legislative committee, which makes limited budget decisions for the Legislature when lawmakers are not in session. Since only the Legislature can make appropriations, LB&A may only increase line items already funded with federal cash. However, the Governor’s proposal called for creating new line items funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. RPLs are also traditionally only utilized when the Legislature is not in session, which is complicated by the recent pandemic. 
The Legislature has been in an extended recess since the end of March, and today is technically the 113th day of the session. Legislative leaders left session open in case additional pandemic response measures became necessary. For instance, this sizable influx of federal funds would usually require a supplemental appropriations bill. However, lawmakers have not been able to agree on how to reconvene the Legislature given the public health restrictions in place, and have also had disagreements over to how best deploy these federal funds.
At an initial meeting on May 1, LB&A authorized a portion of the Governor’s plan by approving approximately $150 million in RPLs for education, child nutrition, public safety, and rural transportation programs. Following negotiations and further review, the Dunleavy Administration introduced a revised set of RPLs, which were back before the committee yesterday. The committee debated the appropriation and legal aspects of the plan for several hours, during an at times tense meeting. LB&A Chair Representative Chris Tuck eventually took the procedural step of ruling the RPLs out of order. He cited advice of legislative attorneys, stating that much of the funding in the Governor’s plan needs to be appropriated through a budget bill and not an RPL. The committee ultimately overturned Rep. Tuck’s ruling by a vote of 3-7, and the plan passed by unanimous vote. You can view the full LB&A hearing here.
The federal financial aid is coming into the Alaska via the CARES Act passed by Congress on March 27. More than $150 billion in funding is to be distributed to states for necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency due to COVID-19. Each state was to get a minimum of $1.25 billion. In total, Alaska will likely receive closer to $1.5 billion, because some aid will pass to residents and state entities in the form of direct aid from federal agencies.
From the initial CARES Act funding, the University of Alaska is receiving the following: $10.5 million from the Higher Education Emergency Relief 

  • $3.94 million Direct Student Aid
  • $3.94 million Institutional Aid,
  • $2.60 million Minority Servicing Institutions Support 
$1.8 from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund 
  • $1.6 University of Alaska Support
  • $200k Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) 

As Congress considers additional COVID legislation, UA is communicating with the Alaska delegation to advocate for supplemental legislative priorities specific to our unique challenges in Alaska. We are also working with higher-education colleagues around the country on aid and assistance important to both students and institutions.
With yesterday’s action, it is looking increasingly likely that the Legislature will adjourn by on or before next Wednesday, May 20th, which is the 121-day constitutional session limit. Many legislators are eager to have this session behind them, and to turn to important local issues and in many cases this fall’s campaign season.

Remembering Byron Mallott
Former Lt. Governor and native leader Byron Mallott passed away last week. He is remembered for decades of service to Alaska, and tireless work for equality and justice for Alaska’s Native people. Mallott’s leadership included serving in the cabinet of Governor Bill Egan, executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, and terms as Mayor of both Juneau and Yakutat. He advocated for passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and served as President of the Alaska Federation of Natives and First Alaskans Institute. In addition to being a UA Regent from 2002-2003, Mallot served as chairman and CEO of the Sealaska Corporation, and served on the board of directors for Alaska Airlines and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.