Some lawmakers think the Legislature should reconvene in Juneau and appropriate federal COVID-19 relief funds. The governor and others at the Capitol want to get the money out as fast as possible. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire File)

Some lawmakers think the Legislature should reconvene in Juneau and appropriate federal COVID-19 relief funds. The governor and others at the Capitol want to get the money out as fast as possible. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire File)

Work on federal allocations goes into the evening

A long delayed committee meeting finally met Monday night

A debate on the best way to allocate more than $1.5 billion in mostly federal relief funding stretched into the evening Monday, and by the end of the business day lawmakers were still hashing it out.

More than $60 million was approved early in the meeting, but the bulk of the appropriations, including cash payments for municipalities remained under debate at the time the Empire went to print.

In a meeting attended by lawmakers both in-person and online, Legislative Budget and Audit Committee members questioned representatives from the Legislative Finance Division, the Office of Management and Budget and other state departments about how allocation amounts were determined and how they could be used.

The meeting had already been rescheduled from last week, and was postponed Monday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and finally to 4 p.m. as some lawmakers maintain the governor’s method for allocating federal Cares Act money is illegal in some cases. Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed allocating more than $1.25 billion in federal relief money, 45% of which was reserved for local governments, through the revised program legislative requests, or RPL, process.

But RPLs can’t put federal money into programs that don’t already have federal money, and some lawmakers said. Furthermore, using federal dollars on programs that don’t already have federal receipt authority would be illegal, said Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, who co-chairs the committee.

“You can’t just RPL and get federal money into a program that didn’t have federal money in it first,” Tuck previously told the Empire.

RPLs could be used in some areas, Tuck said, but there were critical areas where the federal money couldn’t be used and could only receive money through action by the Legislature. Community assistance, small business relief and fisheries were three examples of critical areas that needed money but couldn’t get it through RPL, according to Tuck and some lawmakers.

At question is more than $958 million for community assistance, small business relief, economic stimulus for Alaska fisheries and direct payments to communities, according to committee documents. But that money couldn’t be allocated through RPLs, Director of Legislative Finance Pat Pitney told the committee.

“We are outside the RPL authority,” Pitney said of the RPL for community assistance. “The RPL authority envisions adding to an existing program, this is creating a program.”

Pitney and Legislative Affairs Agency Division of Legal and Research Services Director Megan Wallace warned lawmakers those particular RPLs made the state vulnerable to lawsuits that could tie the funds up in court.

But opponents emphasized the importance of getting the money out as soon as possible, regardless of where and how it can be spent.

“There might be a lot of technical and bureaucratic reasons for not moving forward,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka. “We need to take action and deal with this.”

Proponents of using the RPL process repeatedly point to economic damage caused by the lockdown and say citizens are in immediate need of cash.

“We’ve eaten up at least 10 days,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel. “The larger communities in the United States have got their money and they’re spending it, that I think, is an injustice.”

More in News

The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore docks in Juneau in October, 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the Week of May 28

Here’s what to expect this week.

The City and Borough of Juneau Harbormaster Enforcement vessel drives past the Dusky Rock which sits at Aurora Harbor. The vessel was towed there from Sandy beach Friday evening after three people died within a three-day period aboard the vessel while anchored offshore. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Three people found dead on boat anchored off Sandy Beach

Drug use a possible factor in deaths of one man and two women during three-day span

The Mendenhall Glacier and surrounding area is seen under an overcast sky on May 12. A federal order published Friday bans mineral extraction activities such as mining in an expanded area of land surrounding the glacier for the next 20 years. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Feds expand ban on mineral extraction near Mendenhall Glacier

20-year prohibition on mining, oil drilling applies to newly exposed land as ice continues retreat

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Thursday, June 1, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Bulk food in Food Bank of Alaska’s Anchorage warehouse on April 21. (Photo by Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
State roughly halves the number of Alaskans waiting on food aid, but more than 8,000 remain

By Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon Mary Wood has been waiting for food… Continue reading

A white butterfly rests upon a fern Saturday at Prince of Wales Island. (Courtesy Photo / Marti Crutcher)
Wild Shots

Reader-submitted photos of Mother Nature in Southeast Alaska.

Photos by Lee House / Sitka Conservation Society
Aliyah Merculief focuses on her run while snowboarding at Snow Camp.
Resilient Peoples & Place: Bringing up a new generation of Indigenous snow shredders

“Yak’éi i yaada xwalgeiní” (“it is good to see your face”) reads… Continue reading

A polar bear feeds near a pile of whale bones north of Utqiaġvik. (Courtesy Photo /Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Polar bears of the past survived warmth

In a recent paper, scientists wrote that a small population of polar… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 31, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read