By SCOTT LEVESQUE
Three Assembly members on Friday proposed an additional $10 million in CARES Act funds to help Anchorage’s small businesses. It’s a compromise, because earlier this week some on the Assembly said they had given enough to businesses. They took heat for their remarks.
In a joint press release by members Forrest Dunbar, Suzanne LaFrance, and Austin Quinn-Davidson, the Assembly members have changed their positions by 180 degrees in response to intense feedback from small business owners.
The business community has pleaded with the Assembly for months, during the Mayor’s enforced shutdown, to disperse more monies from the CARES Act’s small business stabilization program. Just this week the Red Chair Cafe said it will be closing it doors this month, and many will follow, a result of the strict business closures enforced by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
Over the past several months, many Anchorage community members have descended upon the Loussac Public Library, where the Assembly meets, to express their discontent and frustration with both the Assembly and Berkowitz Administration.
The Assembly’s refusal to allow in-person public testimony during some of the most controversial votes led to several highly attended protests outside the Chambers. Many have taken to social media to express their displeasure as well.
Now that people are allowed inside the chambers, the Assembly is beginning to get an earful, on the record.
Facebook groups, such as Save Anchorage and Open Alaska, have grown in size and popularity, providing an outlet to express anger, disappointment, and the desire for change.
The group Save Anchorage has gotten the attention of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who called citizens involved in it a fake “Astroturf” group, while explaining his conspiracy theory regarding the group’s motivations.
The Assembly had earlier allocated just $6 million, out of the $156,713,566.04 given in CARES Act monies, to fund the small businesses and nonprofit relief program. Tourism and hospitality programs, and some nonprofits received a separate allocation.
Because the Assembly issued so little initially, it prompted the Municipality to hold a lottery to see which businesses and nonprofits would receive money, causing another uproar, as many businesses were passed over for aid.
According to Assembly member Suzanne LaFrance, now is the time to add more funds to the small business stabilization program.
“We need to get more funds in the hands of small business owners, now. Our constituents are hurting. Passing this resolution could keep hundreds of businesses alive. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this appropriation,” LaFrance said.
LaFrance was the only Assembly member quoted in the joint press release. Closely aligned with the leftwing caucus that runs the Anchorage Assembly, she has been all but silent in recent meetings, as she is running for House District 28 as the Democrats’ nominee.
This announcement comes just days after Assembly Members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy proposed an amendment to AO 2020-99, in which they included $17.45 million in additional small business and nonprofit relief, including monies for franchise businesses.
Allard and Kennedy had proposed removing over $15 million from previously proposed projects, such as the Girdwood Health Center, and local trail building, but their motion was voted down by the liberal majority of the Assembly.
Coincidentally, today’s proposal put forth by Dunbar, LaFrance, and Quinn-Davidson contains nearly identical language from the Allard/Kennedy amendment proposed at the Sept. 29 Assembly meeting, but includes roughly $7.5 million less in proposed funding.
It’s nearly a sure bet the Dunbar/LaFrance/Quinn-Davidson proposal will pass at the next Assembly meeting. But critics asked why the three didn’t work with the amendment offered by Allard/Kennedy. The answer is likely that the two from Eagle River are not part of the liberal majority.
Perhaps the change of heart on the Assembly is political cover for LeFrance, as she runs for Alaska State House in District 28. Several liberal members show up on the campaign finance reports of LeFrance, as major donors to her quest for higher office.
The Assembly plans to vote on the proposal at the Oct. 13 meeting.