Governor, legislature spar over power to allocate $1 billion in CARES Act funding

Anchorage Democrat Chris Tuck argues that the legislature has the constitutional power to allocate money, not the executive branch (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

legislative committee approved spending $125 million in federal CARES Act money on Friday. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is calling on the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee to approve roughly $1 billion more. But the Legislature’s nonpartisan legal and budget advisers have said the entire Legislature may need to reconvene to do that. 

Dunleavy said at a news briefing on Friday that if the Legislature decides to reconvene, it will slow down how quickly Alaskans receive the money. 

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“The chances of this money getting out quickly to assist municipalities and businesses and individuals — that becomes a problem, because the process takes a long time,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy said the committee should be able to handle it. 

Committee Chair Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, noted that the state constitution gives the Legislature the power to spend money. A law allows the committee to agree to federal spending for items that were included in the budget. 

But he said there are no items in the budget that would allow the committee to accept the bulk of the CARES Act money. 

“We will send this money out as fast as we can, but we’re going to do it lawfully,” Tuck said. “We want to make sure that we’re not going to be getting ourselves into trouble or subject to a lawsuit, because that slows the money down a lot.”

The Legislature last met on March 29. But it recessed rather than adjourned, and could reconvene at any time before the constitutional deadline to end the session on May 20. 

Tuck said the Legislature could handle all of the remaining business over three or four days. But he acknowledged it would be a logistical challenge to reconvene in Juneau while maintaining social distancing. 

The committee voted to approve six of 11 separate requests made by Dunleavy’s administration. They include: 

  • $45 million for public education
  • $42 million for school lunches and other child nutrition programs
  • $29 million for rural transportation costs, including $10 million the Alaska Marine Highway System
  • $5 million for the University of Alaska
  • $3.6 million for the law enforcement
  • $420,000 for grants to arts organizations

Tuck said the committee could still approve two requests for transportation funding, including funds for airports. But he said it lacks authority to accept $562.5 million for communities, $300 million for small business relief and $100 million for fisheries.