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Key committee approves CARES Act relief after weeks long impasse

was written by Andrew Kitchenman, Alaska Public Media & KTOO – Juneau , 2020-05-12 05:04:30

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Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, discusses a bill in 2019. (Photo by Skip Gray/KTOO)

A key state legislative committee approved more than $1 billion in federal relief on Monday. 

The action will allow Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration to begin sending payments to communities and businesses. 

The biggest items were $586.6 million in direct municipal relief; $290 million in small business relief; and $100 million for the state’s fisheries. 

The majority of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee members said it was more important to send the money out than to continue to argue over the legal authority for the spending.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat, rejected the idea the entire Alaska Legislature should meet like those in other states have to approve the funding. 

“We need to say, ‘We are the decision makers, let’s make some decisions today,’” Hoffman 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.”

The committee also approved less controversial items, including: $49 million in airport funding; $10 million to assist the homeless and prevent homelessness; and $3 million for the Whittier tunnel and other transportation operations. 

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The Legislature’s nonpartisan legal adviser has questioned whether the spending that wasn’t tied to specific items in the state budget could legally be approved through the committee process. 

Committee Chair Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, said the entire Legislature must meet to approve the spending for it to be legal. He expressed concern a lawsuit could delay the money or force the state to repay it to the federal government.

Tuck engaged in a heated exchange with Hoffman.

Tuck: “I am not going to play stupid just to get along with people. I have an oath of obligation, just like everybody else has an oath of obligation, and I take that seriously. You may not — and I’m not going to say that you do or you don’t.” 

Hoffman: “You do.”

Tuck: “Alright, well, that’s what this is about, right here.”

The meeting cooled down after a break. Tuck later ruled the controversial items out of order, but the committee voted 7-3 to overrule him. It then approved the items without objection.

Supporters of the action said the entire Legislature could vote to ratify the decision when it reconvenes in the future.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, repeatedly called on the committee members to act. On Friday, Dunleavy said he can’t see why they hadn’t. 

“I would ask that they ask themselves: ‘Is the hold up — whatever is holding this up — is it of such magnitude that it’s worth holding up, as Alaskans are waiting for those funds?’”  Dunleavy said. 

The Legislature recessed instead of adjourning in late March. The last day of the session under the state constitution is May 20. 

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Glacier Bay National Park. Glacier Bay is situated in southeast Alaska, approximately 60 air miles west of the state capital of Juneau. The nearest community is Gustavus, Alaska situated 11 miles away. Glacier Bay National Park at present includes over 3 million acres, and is often known as one of the Crown Jewels of the National Park system. The Park offers snow-capped mountain ranges soaring to over 15,000 feet, coastal beaches with shielded coves, deep fjords, tidewater glaciers, coastal and estuarine waters, and fresh water ponds. In addition to stunning vistas, there are plentiful wildlife watching possibilities with a wide range of seabirds, sea and land mammals. Many visitors experience Glacier Bay National Park while on large cruise ships that visit the Park for the day, whereas others remain inside the Park at the Glacier Bay Lodge. While there are no roads to Glacier Bay National Park, you will find convenient air connections to Gustavus through Juneau, Skagway and Haines. Ferry service can also be offered by Juneau. Through Gustavus it is about 10 miles by road to Glacier Bay Lodge & Tours located from Bartlett cove and is home to the visitor center and departure point for day boat excursions to Glacier Bay National Park. Accommodations within Glacier Bay National Park are at the Glacier Bay Lodge. The lodge features 56 rooms along with dining, activities desk, gift shop, and the Park visitor center is found upstairs. All rooms have private bath and/or shower and can accommodate as many as 4 guests. Glacier Bay Lodge is open mid-May to mid-September each year.

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