Legislature passes budget, COVID relief
Dear Neighbor,
The legislature passed an operating and partial capital budget on the fastest timeline in decades, along with multiple bills providing sweeping economic and public health relief related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional details about this legislation is below. We also funded a $1,000 Permanent Fund Dividend, which comes on top of $1,200 per person federal cash payments and greatly expanded Unemployment Insurance. Unfortunately, cratering oil prices and a depressed stock market mean Alaska faces the most dire fiscal situation in state or territorial history. We face years of deficits without any Permanent Fund Dividends, and will have no choice next year except generating significant additional revenue to meet bare minimum public safety, education, and infrastructure investments. Remember, this is after we cut the budget 40% since 2013, and have reduced the budget to the lowest levels since the late 1970's.
COVID-19 Relief:
The legislature passed Senate Bill 241, which includes numerous important reforms:
  •  An amendment I introduced with Reps. Spohnholz, LeDoux, Merrick, Shaw, Hopkins, Wool, and Ortiz, enabling the Department of Community, Commerce and Economic Development to provide grants to small businesses to help continued operation;  
  • Extension of the governor’s initial 30-day public health emergency until as late as November 15, unless the governor declares that the emergency is over sooner;
  • $10 million from the Disaster Relief Fund to assist with any expenses that arise during response efforts, which is in addition to emergency funding authorized in other budgets;
  • Authority for Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink to issue standing orders for healthcare providers related to COVID-19;
  • Authority for Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to initiate vote-by-mail in elections in 2020 if in-person elections are deemed to compromise public health;
  • Moratorium on eviction of tenants who are unable to pay their bills as a result of COVID-19, foreclosures on property owners, and preventing Alaskans who are struggling from having their utilities shut off;
  • Guarantee that first responders, nurses, and doctors will receive workers compensation if diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • Prohibition on price gouging to prevent people from taking advantage of the crisis;
  • Extension of the PFD application period to April 30, 2020;
  • Establishment of Good Samaritan protection for Alaskans who want to address a critical shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers and first responders.
Operating and Capital Budget:
  • House Bill 205, which contains Alaska’s capital and operating budgets, approves $4.74 billion in unrestricted general fund spending, including:
  • $88 million for COVID-19 response efforts
  • $75 million for the Department of Health and Social Services
  • $5 million for the Disaster Relief Fund
  • $5 million for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation
  • $2.7 million for the public health services provided by the Municipality of Anchorage
  • $151 million for the Alaska State Troopers and $14 million for the Village Public Safety Officer program to help make our state safe
  • $98 million for Pioneer Homes and $21 million for Senior Benefits to make sure the elders who built our state live their lives out with dignity
  • $1 billion to inflation proof the Permanent Fund so the fund won’t lose value over time, and $675.5 million a $1,000 dividend for eligible Alaskans;
  • $120 million in capital project funding that will provide work for Alaska’s construction industry.
  • A targeted $30 million investment in K-12 education that will help avoid teacher layoffs and larger classroom sizes (this represents flat education funding, and avoids cuts that would have substantially increased class sizes)
  • $12.5 million to partially restore the University of Alaska’s budget, a move that helps avoid the closure of programs that prepare our best and brightest to grow our economy.
  • Because the House of Representatives and Senate each obtained supermajority votes for the reverse sweep, Power Cost Equalization and UA scholarships are not threatened.
HB 301 Heads to Governor for Signature:
Great news: The Senate passed HB 301 16-1 and this legislation heads to the Governor's desk for signature. It protects Alaska's apprenticeship programs and career pathways for veterans. Thanks to Representatives Shaw, LeDoux, Spohnholz, and many others for helping introduce this bill, and to Senator Click Bishop for guiding it to Senate passage.
Having passed the budget and multiple bills providing COVID-19 relief, the legislature is in extended recess to avoid transmitting the virus among members and staff. In the meantime, our offices remain open via phone and email, so please reach out if you need help with anything, including navigating this blizzard of state and federal relief initiatives. We will have to reconvene later this year to address further COVID-19 economic and public health relief. In the meantime, please take social distancing guidelines seriously: Alaska has grossly insufficient ventilators and ICU beds to treat patients with COVID-19, so avoid contact outside your household like your life depends on it.
See you around the neighborhood...at a distance.
Follow us on social media: