Lawmakers scrap critical meeting on relief funds

Lawmakers scrap critical meeting on relief funds

Some legislators say there are problems with gov’s plan

A crucial meeting of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee scheduled for Wednesday afternoon was canceled, according to the state’s website.

Committee members were scheduled to discuss the governor’s proposed revised program legislative requests, or RPLs, which contain $1.5 billion in mostly federal COVID-19 relief funding.

Committee Chair Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, told the Empire “there are some RPLs we’re waiting to be fixed.”

Tuck said the RPL process cannot add federal funding to programs that don’t already have federal funding in them, and LBA cannot legally give the governor power to make those appropriations.

“Right now, as the law stands, LBA does not have the ability to just turn over monies to the governor,” Tuck said. “It’s a constitutional issue. The full Legislature is responsible for appropriating funds.”

Tuck and Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, who also sits on the LBA Committee, stated in a letter that not reconvening and creating new programs and appropriations would violate the Legislature’s constitutional duty.

The letter acknowledged potential delays caused by political maneuvering, but called on lawmakers to commit to working together.

“Either we violate the Constitution or we place individual Alaskan lives at risk. Neither is an acceptable outcome,” the letter stated.

Other lawmakers have said expediency should be the top priority and urged approval of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan.

“Businesses are shutting down, Alaskans are struggling, we don’t have weeks to figure this out,” Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said in a statement. “The RPL process is the fastest way to get relief into the hands of Alaskans. Personal agendas need to be set aside, Alaskans need to know they are the priority.”

Tuck said he was following the advice of the Legislative Legal and Finance divisions who told LB&A the governor’s use of federal funds would be restricted. In a May 5 legal memo, Legislative Affairs Agency Division of Legal and Research Services Director Megan Wallace said any appropriation of federal funds by the governor to a non-federally funded program would be unconstitutional.

“If LB&A approves the RPLs or the governor moves forward and expends funds after the 45-day waiting period,” Wallace stated in the memo. “that expenditure would likely constitute an unconstitutional delegations of the legislature’s power of appropriation.”

At a press conference Wednesday evening, Dunleavy said he was disappointed to see the committee hadn’t approved his RPLs.

“We were hoping today we’d be able to report out to you LBA approved (the RPLs),” Dunleavy said. “We’re asking that LBA work quickly to get money into the hands of (Alaskans).”

LB&A rescheduled its meeting for 1 p.m. Monday.

This is a developing story, check back later for updates.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

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