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
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
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
$1.8 from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund
- $3.94 million Direct Student Aid
- $3.94 million Institutional Aid,
- $2.60 million Minority Servicing Institutions Support
- $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.