The Alaska Legislature passed a budget bill with more than $4.5 billion in spending from state funds in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Included in the bill were funds to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, with $75 million going to the Department of Health and Social Services.
The Legislature has gone into recess, and many lawmakers have left Juneau. The plan now is to wait.
Lawmakers sent a number of bills to the governor’s desk as they rushed to get as much done as possible before going into recess. It’s now up to Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska’s congressional delegation to see what the state needs.
“A lot of it’s going to be watching, trying to see what the federal government gave us and if there are gaps in the federal law,” said Daniel McDonald, communications director for the Senate Majority Caucus, referring to the $2 trillion stimulus package recently approved by Congress.
Lawmakers would be working with the Dunleavy administration and the delegation to see what the state can do that’s not covered by the federal government. The Legislature is currently recessed, rather than adjourned, which means they can come back to Juneau quickly if extra legislation is passed. The recess lasts until the end of May, when the regular session would have ended.
“A lot of Alaskans are worried about the coming weeks. We’re all just focused on directing people to the proper services that they can use to get help,” McDonald said.
On Saturday, lawmakers also passed an emergency relief bill that provided protections for people who may be struggling with the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.
The bill, which has yet to be signed by Dunleavy, would prevent tenants from being evicted due to an inability to pay and prevents utilities from cutting off services to delinquent bill payers.
The budget bill was not universally loved.
It allocated a permanent fund dividend of $1,000, and removed the additional $1,000 approved by the Senate that would have been sent out in the coming weeks. That raised the ire of some House Republicans who felt that including the COVID-19 funding in the same bill as the PFD forced them to vote against their will.
“Using the $75 million COVID response money as a leverage point is shameful,” Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said in a release. “That money is intended to be used for venues like the Alaska Airline’s Center as triage facilities.”
In a statement, the House Republican Minority said COVID-19 funding was “held hostage” by the Majority when they placed it within the budget bill.
“Until yesterday, this was just a budget,” House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said in a statement, referring to the Senate’s addition of emergency funding into the budget bill.
“For the first time, I was embarrassed to be a member of this body,” Pruitt said. “We could have solved this with conversations, we could have listened to others’ concerns.”
The governor too, expressed frustration with the final bill, questioning why lawmakers chose to remove the $1,000 stimulus check.
Dunleavy still has to sign the bills sent to him by the Legislature, and he has the ability to veto certain items from the bill.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.