Legislative committee OKs governor’s expansion of small business relief program

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about the state’s COVID-19 response from the Atwood Building in Anchorage on April 20. On Thursday, the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee approved changed Dunleavy was making to the eligibility for the small business AK CARES grants. Dunleavy’s administration would have had to wait until early October to make the changes if the committee hadn’t approved them. (Creative Commons photo by Alaska Governor’s Office)

An Alaska legislative committee has agreed to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s plan to expand access to a federally funded small business relief program. 

The changes remove a restriction that has prevented businesses affected by COVID-19 from receiving AK CARES grants if they also received federal Payroll Protection Program loans or Economic Injury Disaster Loans. And the plan also allows small business owners who have another, primary source of income to receive grants. 

The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee signed off on the plan during a meeting on Thursday.

Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof is a committee member. She said there have been delays in getting the grants to businesses.

“The fingers cannot be pointed at the Legislature any more that we were the bottleneck, because we said, ‘OK,’” she said. “So now the onus, the volley, is back in the governor’s court and the administration’s court to get this money out.”

Dunleavy’s administration would have had to wait until early October to make the changes, if the committee didn’t agree to the plan. Now it can implement the changes immediately. 

The governor set aside $290 million for the program. 

The committee also named Alexei Painter as the Legislature’s new chief nonpartisan budget analyst. 

Painter will be the director of the Legislative Finance Division and replaces Pat Pitney. She left — after being in the job for six months — to become the interim president of the University of Alaska. He is scheduled to start in the position on Monday.

The position is high-profile nonpartisan voice on state budget issues, with the director frequently testifying before the House and Senate finance committees. Before Pitney, previous director David Teal served for more than 20 years. 

Painter said he’ll draw on his experience working on the budget. 

“I think the top priority of legislative finance generally is to support the Legislature as it tries to make fiscal decisions, and we have some particularly difficult ones facing us over the next few years, so the priority is really just to provide the information and analysis that they need to make those decisions,”  he said.

Painter worked as a fiscal analyst for the division for more than five years, before joining the state’s Office of Management and Budget in June. 

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