A legislative committee set aside lingering legal questions and agreed to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plans for $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
Many Legislative Budget and Audit Committee members Monday said getting the money out was more important than haggling over legal authority for the spending, KTOO Public Media reported.
The committee, made up of House and Senate members, previously agreed to Dunleavy’s plans for about $125 million, a fraction of his total request, while working through remaining items.
The biggest items addressed Monday involved $586.6 million for communities; $290 million in small business relief; and $100 million for fisheries.
The Legislature’s legal adviser had questioned whether spending not tied to budget items could be approved through the committee process. Rep. Chris Tuck, the committee chair, argued the full Legislature must convene to approve the spending in those cases.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman called for action by the committee.
“We need to say, ‘We are the decision makers, let’s make some decisions today,’” Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat, said. “The people of Alaska want us — they’ve elected us — to make these decisions. Now, let’s get to business and let’s vote and get this thing done.”
Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, ruled the contentious items out of order but was overruled. The items were later approved without objection.
Those who supported the move said the Legislature could vote to ratify the committee’s actions when it next convenes. The Legislature is in recess, after passing a budget in late March. The 121-day session clock, set forth by the state constitution, expires May 20.
“There’s no time to spare,” Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, said in a statement. “We’re in the midst of an unprecedented public health and economic crisis.”
Other items agreed to Monday included $49 million for airports; $10 million related to homelessness; and $3 million for the Whittier tunnel and other transportation operations or issues.