I don’t know that legislators hear that often enough. As elected officials who have to balance competing demands in response to a diversity of interests and be successful in collaboration with a majority of other officials who are juggling an entirely different group of issues, I want to acknowledge how difficult this position is. And how appreciative we are of their ability to advance policies in Alaska’s interest.
We realize this came to a head recently with regard to distributing federal CARES Act funding effectively and efficiently in support of Alaskans. The Legislature appeared to be in a very difficult position as it took up the Governor’s proposal through an unorthodox process. Clearly, many would have preferred to do this in person and as a body, through their established legislative procedures. We know they now have that opportunity.
But the Committee discussion that occurred last week highlighted just how unusual a position Alaska is in, as we continue to wrestle with the public health emergency and economic crisis. Time was of the essence, and delay had the potential to further damage Alaska’s rebound. The comments from every member of Legislative Budget and Audit indicated how challenging normalcy is during a very uncertain time, but also demonstrated a commitment to action during a period of crisis.
If I look at this just from a local government perspective, I have to say how appreciative we are of the Committee’s comments. It was perhaps the most vocal and direct support for Alaska’s cities and boroughs that I’ve heard. I want to thank Senate President Giessel, Senate Finance Co-Chairs Stedman and Von Imhof, Vice Chair Bishop, and Sen. Hoffman, as well as House Finance Co-Chairs Foster and Johnston. I also appreciate Speaker Edgmon’s outreach along the way, and the communication we received from both House and Senate members. Across the board, we heard support for communities.
For the challenges that remain, the Committee identified ways to address them. We are glad that the Legislature reconvened as quickly as it has to ratify these actions. At the same time, we know that more time between where we’re at right now during this crisis and where we’ll be months from now will mean a greater ability to report outcomes, address challenges, and ultimately assess what else needs to be done. It is very clear that this week’s action doesn’t stop here, and that together we have work to do.
Our assessment of the costs of COVID means that we’re looking at CARES Act funding meeting some portion of current local government needs and maybe more importantly a portion of community needs. We know that this doesn’t address deficits currently experienced by cities and boroughs. We’re also looking at this in the long term, and ultimately we understand that while we’re tackling today’s challenges we know that tomorrow will bring continued response and recovery efforts compounded by a State fiscal crisis that will directly impact local governments.
So, thank you to legislators who have stood up for local governments. We hope we can build off this in the months to come, as partners who have Alaska’s best interest in mind. We may not always agree but I know that we can agree on working together.