Welcome to another edition of Friday in the Sun, where we try our best to make sense of the week in news.
The last few weeks have been filled with pain and hope as the country’s deep-rooted racism in policing and beyond has been laid bare for everyone to see. Finally, these horrible images have seemed to push the country to a tipping point where no longer is the Black Lives Matter movement kept at the fringes. It’s broken into the mainstream and it seems like many people are finally listening, willing to challenge their ideas about race, privilege and implicit bias (and are not just relying on their BIPOC friends to explain it to them).
Don’t let the vanguards of the status quo–who’ve staked not just their political identity but their profit portfolio on sowing division and hate–twist and erase the depth and nuance of calls to action like “Defund the Police.” Across the country and the state, there are the start of serious and meaningful conversations about how to reform and change a system that has long devalued and demeaned non-white lives. It’s those conversations–not the hyperventilating over burritos and hypothetical lawless societies–that we should be engaging with right now.
Listen, learn and be better.
And, as always, have a nice weekend.
That’s how many small businesses have so far received money through the state’s COVID-19 relief program, state officials told legislators on Wednesday. According to the numbers presented at the meeting 1,171 small businesses have applied for the program that state officials expect could attract as many as 6,000 businesses and nonprofits.
The 11 grants, which went to nine urban businesses and two in communities with fewer than 5,000 residents, total $248,264 of the $150 million approved to go out in the first wave of funding. There are 33 more applications that have been approved, according to the state’s report, bringing the total to $1.4 million slated to go out.
It didn’t paint a pretty picture for the state’s program, especially when the immediate need of cash infusions into Alaska’s economy was the driver for the Legislature to look the other way on the shoddy process and approve the program without further delay.
An incredibly tense Legislative Budget and Audit Committee meeting, a lawsuit and a hasty return to Juneau, and still the program is hamstrung by the administration of the program (the state says they’re looking at bringing on additional processors to handle the grants) and by a single sentence included by the Dunleavy administration in its unamendable program proposal that went to legislators:
“Businesses that have secured an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, PPP loan, or other federal program funding made available directly to small businesses under the Cares Act do not qualify.”
It’s resulted in a case where businesses that have received a single dollar of federal coronavirus relief money—often around $1,000—are now completely ineligible for a state grant ranging from $5,000 to $100,000. Whoops.
So, you’d assume that the governor and the administration would be rushing to get the Legislature on board and fix this quickly, right? Well, no.
Apparently, the state has been working with the Department of Law to find flexibility in the wording (which, we’re not sure how much flexibility there is in “do not qualify”) and, no, they don’t need the Legislature to run back to the RPL process or into a special session.
But when will it be fixed? Who knows!
“I am gravely concerned about the state of small businesses in Alaska, including those in my district on the brink of collapsing. After weeks of asking, we still do not have a clear answer from the Administration about their plan to fix to their program. This is unacceptable,” wrote House Speaker Bryce Edgmon on a Facebook post Thursday. “We need action today. The language of the governor’s small business RPL is unequivocal: businesses that secured an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, PPP loan, or other federal program funding for businesses under the CARES Act do not qualify. Immediate and substantive action is needed to correct the problems created by his RPL. The livelihood of thousands of Alaskans is on the line. With other legislators, I stand ready to get relief funds into the hands of business owners.”
The administration’s resistance to owning up to the error and seeking a quick resolution is frankly confusing. Some are wondering if there are other big problems with the program that the state is still figuring out and, thus, why ask the Legislature to go back when five more errors spring up in the next few weeks? (Well, the survival of businesses would be one reason but hey!)
Additionally, I’m left wondering how a June or July special session might impact the chances for the boogeyman of a fall special session over the PFD. There’s been talk that the early payout of the PFD (hey, it’ll $992) could give Dunleavy his best shot at a supplemental dividend to be paid out right before the fall’s election, but part of that would be the fact the Legislature has several other to-do items on its list.
Legislators, ostensibly, need to pass a capital budget at some point and they also need to take up the appointments in the annual tradition of a long, miserable joint session before the next Legislature is sworn in (otherwise all the unconfirmed appointees will be given the boot and be ineligible to reapply for that gig).
Take those up this summer and there’s less ammunition to get legislators back for that PFD.
Still, perhaps Attorney General Kevin Clarkson and company can figure out how to read some flexibility into the words “do not qualify.” Looks like the Legislature might get to hear from them next week with a newly scheduled House Finance Committee on Wednesday to hear more about the state’s flubbed program.
2 LEGAL 2 QUIT
Speaking of creative yet legally tenuous readings of Alaska law, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson and buddies added two more Ls this week in their efforts to confuse voters and thwart the constitutional right for voters to be heard at the polls.
First, Superior Court Judge William Morse wrote a pretty scathing opinion that found Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer (and, really, Clarkson) had “engaged in partisan suasion” in writing a summary of the Fair Share Act that intentionally confuses the issue over the confidentiality of tax filings.
Then, on Friday the Alaska Supreme Court denied Clarkson’s efforts to kill the Better Elections Initiative, where he argued that the voters don’t get the same consideration that the Legislature does when it comes to passing new laws. Clarkson argued that the election reform measures didn’t fit under a single subject (even though they totally do, and the Legislature wouldn’t bat an eye at those measures being lumped together (other than the fact that they’re election reform)) and should be struck down.
“The lieutenant governor and the State’s elections office appeal the superior court’s decision. But because the court correctly adhered to our prior interpretation of the relevant constitutional provisions — and because we reject the request to reverse precedent that the people’s power to initiate laws generally is equivalent to that of the legislature — we affirm the court’s decision,” wrote the court in a unanimous decision.
It’s yet another loss in a long string of legal losses for Clarkson and company, which didn’t go unnoticed today.
Watching the first two years of @AGKevinClarkson has been like watching the first two years of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers…zero wins/twenty six losses.
— Andrew Halcro (@AndrewHalcro) June 12, 2020
And this was also sent to us.
KSRM News Director Jennifer Williams announced today on Twitter that she’s put in her notice at the radio station and will be heading back to home in Oregon. Williams (as well as many reporters outside the main media markets) has quietly been doing some great, meaningful work over the past few years reporting down in Kenai—and was once attacked while on the job.
Work of local journalists is incredibly tough. Not only does the pay stink, the hours suck and the stress crush, but the vilification of “The Media” by those who have a vested interest in the politics or the profit of such rhetoric stings—or scars—when, at the end of the day, all you want to see is your community thrive and do better.
We hope Williams nothing but the best in her future endeavors.
Media moves II
Word is KTVA news director Janis Harper is leaving the station for a job in Wisconsin, which has generated a fair bit of speculation about the state of the station, which was purchased by GCI in 2012. GCI pumped a ton of money into the station in the hopes that it could go toe-to-toe with KTUU but it seems that the purse strings have gotten tighter since GCI was later bought by Liberty Ventures Group.
This year saw several quality reporters at KTVA given the boot from the station in what looks like a bunch of cost-cutting measures and folks we’ve talked to are wondering what could be next.
Space Force HQ
And to close out this week with some levity, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz are pitching Anchorage as the brand-new headquarters for the U.S. Space Force.
Who says bipartisanship is dead?