HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
Legislators receive guidance on next steps needed to finalize federal COVID-19 stimulus funds
ANCHORAGE – The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage), today heard testimony from the Legislature’s non-partisan legal services director and the Anchorage municipal attorney on the next steps needed to get all federal COVID-19 stimulus funds out to Alaskan organizations and individuals impacted by the pandemic.
During the hearing, committee members received an update on the legal uses of CARES Act funding, on a process that may be used to approve spending – known as the Revenue and Revised Program/Legislative (RPL) structure – and on the Legislature’s constitutional appropriation authority.
CARES Act Funding
Concerns have been raised about the U.S. Department of Treasury’s issuance of CARES Act funding guidelines that limit flexibility in spending of federal funds by state and local governments to support the economy. Specifically, U.S. senators and local officials have criticized Treasury’s guideline that prevents states and local governments to use CARES Act funds to replace lost revenue.
The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee last week approved a portion of the $1.25 billion in federal funds coming into Alaska through the CARES Act for K-12 education, child nutrition programs, local law enforcement, and other programs. Lawmakers are now sorting through the governor’s proposals for the use of the remaining funds.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Anchorage Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel assured House Judiciary Committee members that Treasury has amended its guidelines to more broadly interpret the CARES Act to allow use of the federal funds to pay for costs and expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic. For example, local governments can use CARES Act funds to pay first responders, public health, and public safety officers.
RPLs and the Legislature’s appropriation authority
Gov. Mike Dunleavy is attempting to use Revised Program Legislative requests, “RPLs,” to get legislative approval to distribute CARES Act funding. RPLs are approved by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee and are typically used between legislative sessions to accept federal money for existing programs.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Megan Wallace, Director of Legislative Legal Services, advised that while some of the governor’s RPL requests are appropriate, many of them do not meet the legal standard for that process because there is no existing program and no existing legislative appropriation. Under the Alaska Constitution, only the Legislature has the power to appropriate funds from the state treasury.
While the Legislative Budget and Audit committee has properly approved several of the RPLs, the legal services director advised the Legislature that the only way to get federal funding to these areas without an existing program is through an appropriations bill enacted by the Legislature.
Office of Rep. Matt Claman
Alaska House Majority