OPINION: Anchorage CARES plan doesn’t care about small business

  • The Anchorage Assembly plans to vote Aug. 11 on how to spend $156 million in CARES Act funds. (Photo/Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News)

If there was any doubt that Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the Anchorage Assembly don’t actually care about saving small businesses being destroyed by a combination of the pandemic and their onerous and arbitrary mandates, their plan to use $156 million in CARES Act funds confirms it.

The muni released the plan on a new website Aug. 10, just a day ahead of the Assembly’s scheduled vote and it is a veritable laundry list of special interest carve-outs, liberal priorities and items that appear to run afoul of federal rules on how this money can be spent.

On the same day that the “Anchorage Economic Resiliency Task Force” published an op-ed calling on the governor to save the city’s hospitality industry that is being crippled by the mayor, we learned that the Assembly plan allocates a mere $7 million out of $156 million in CARES Act funds despite their claim that “no group or industry has been impacted by COVID-19-related closures like local bars, restaurants and the like.”

Among the authors is the mayor’s wife, Mara Kimmel, which solves the mystery of why Gov. Mike Dunleavy is scolded about his “moral obligation” to help this industry while Berkowitz is not.

Let’s review some of the more egregious examples of spending while small family-owned diners are forced into the untenable position of trying to defy the mandates or accepting defeats that may result in the end of their business forever.

• Public lands jobs program: $2 million

• Renewable energy job training program: $1 million

• RuralCAP weatherization program: $2.5 million

• Visit Anchorage remarketing program: $2.6 million

• Nonprofit stimulus: $3 million

• Cultural pillars stabilization program: $3.5 million

• Arts and culture stabilization program: $2 million

• First responder payroll reserve: $21 million

• Proposed property acquisitions for homeless services: $12.5 million

Do any of these proposed spending items reflect the Task Force assertion that “the city’s needs already outpace the relief it has received from the State of Alaska”? 

Just last week, the Mat-Su Borough appropriated $13 million into a business relief fund and another $9.9 million for individual relief. Out of its $37 million in CARES funds, the borough dedicated nearly 62 percent to businesses and individuals. A large chunk went into purchasing laptops and other equipment to allow borough employees to work from home, which is also an appropriate use of the money.

If Anchorage followed the same formula as the Mat-Su Borough, rather than Christmas-treeing its plan with a wish list of the well-connected members of the municipal elite, there would be more than $96 million set aside for businesses and individuals. That would certainly alleviate the need to shame the governor for not doing enough to help.

Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].

08/10/2020 - 4:05pm