Former Gov. Parnell, former US Sen. Begich to lead team aiming to stabilize Alaska’s economy

Former Gov. Sean Parnell, left, and former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, right, have been named by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to lead a new Alaska Economic Stabilization Team. Dunleavy charged the team with developing a plan to protect the state’s economy from the coronavirus impact. (Parnell photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska and Begich photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced on Tuesday a state economic stabilization team to work on a plan to protect the state’s economy from the coronavirus impact.

Former Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, and former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, will lead the team, which will include state economic leaders and former elected officials.

Dunleavy said the team will recommend decisive policies to protect jobs, families and the economy.

Parnell said the committee members will focus on Alaskans’ interests.

“We need all Alaskans standing together, basically as force multipliers against not only coronavirus but also against the economic uncertainty that we face,” he said.

Begich said the response is drawing the state together.

“We have to put all hands on deck, put aside political differences and figure out what we can to ensure the livelihoods of Alaskans are protected and put together a plan,” he said.

Begich said he and Parnell will be reaching out to business leaders for ideas. He said the tourism, hospitality and other retail; oil and gas; and fisheries industries are among those he’s focused on.

The Dunleavy administration also is working with the state Legislature on coronavirus response funding.

The Senate Finance Committee is considering a proposal to provide $8.5 million in grants to municipalities losing revenue from cruise ship cancellations. The plan also would provide $15 million in public health and emergency programs.

The proposal is in addition to a bill the governor signed today that provides an initial batch of state and federal funding.

The Legislature also is considering $30 million in assistance to communities.

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman said he expected the Legislature to finish work on the operating budget in the next two weeks and to reconvene in late summer or early fall to act on administration proposals.

“This is a multi-step approach to a very dynamic incident dealing with this virus,” he said. “So the trail will have many curves and turns, and we’re going to respond accordingly and keep our public safe.”

Fairbanks Republican Sen. Click Bishop has been working with the governor’s office on a bill to get unemployment insurance benefits to affected workers immediately.

Legislators also have expressed interest in helping small businesses access credit.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Chuck Kopp said Monday that the Legislature must be prepared to act quickly.

“We know that we are going to have to be responsive and looking at what we can do to mitigate the biggest problem of all, and that’s the pandemic of fear that’s swept globally,” he said. “That ship has sailed, but it is the fear that has resulted in economic collapse that we have to deal with.”

The Senate Finance Committee will start hearing public testimony on the operating and capital budgets on Wednesday.


Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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