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Supplemental budget moves through Senate, Falls short in the House

 Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska (KTUU)
Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Mar. 18, 2020 at 6:39 PM AKDT
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On Wednesday, members of the Senate Majority outlined their plan for assisting Alaskans in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Wednesday, the total number of known cases in Alaska is still less than 10, but the economic toll that the virus is taking has already impacted every community, statewide. The Senate has responded by unanimously passing a supplemental budget worth $612 million. More than $30 million of that money would go towards community assistance and the funding of the state's COVID-19 response.

“This is not a time for politics, it’s a time for all of us to work together as Alaskans," Sen. Tom Begich told KTUU, "We understand that in the minority. The majority understands that as well and that’s why we’re working together, it’s been an easy process."

In the House of Representatives, there was considerably more opposition - mostly related to additions made in the week since its version of the budget was passed over to the senate - additions of about $61 million dollars in unrestricted general funds.

Rep. Lance Pruitt voiced total support for the funding that had been set aside to assist with Alaska's COVID-19 response, but questioned some of the items that ended up included in the budget by the Senate. According to Pruitt, some of the additions were "a little bothersome."

"We've lost 7 billion dollars from the fund in a month. I don't even think it has been a month," he said. "We are emptying our savings and we are emptying them quickly. It look's like we'll be emptying them even faster because of the coronavirus."

Rep. Mark Neuman also spoke out against several of the line items in the proposed supplemental budge, noting the fact that several other things were added in the other body.

"This is supposed to be a bill about what was spent last year that was unforeseen," Neuman said. "Never before in the state's history have we seen additions like this put into a supplemental budget bill."

Those in support of the bill acknowledged these changes, but pointed to the constantly changing nature of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"There are some elements of this budget that are unprecedented but so are the challenges that we are facing." Rep. Ivy Spohnholz told the house.

Rep. Zack Fields also noted that things had changed significantly since the house sent it's version of the budget over to the senate, but noted that taking action immediately is pertinent for containing the virus in the early stages of it's presence in Alaska.

"By tomorrow one of us could have the virus and we will no longer have the luxury of extended debate," he said.

Rep. Jennifer Johnston also noted that the threat of COVID-19 had disrupted the process for lawmakers.

"We don't have time as individual legislators to do the good work that we hope to do. We lost that time and we only have time for the State of Alaska," she said.

"It is a crisis now." Rep. Chuck Kopp told his colleagues. "It gets a little bit messy when you're in a mode of emergency response."

At the conclusion of the session, the bill passed with a concurrence vote of 28 for and 10 against, but ultimately failed to garner the 30 votes needed in order to fund the budget using money from the constitutional budget reserve.