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Legislature Adjourns — Returning Wednesday

By | April 16, 2012

The Legislature made it to the end of its regular ninety-day session just after midnight this morning – passing and sending to the governor several dozen bills over the final two days.    However,  the issues seen as critical at the start of the session,  turned out to be footnotes at the end.

Legislators and the public prepared for a session this year focusing on oil taxes,  school funding, and an instate gas line.  Budgets were not of concern – the state has plenty of money.

At the end,  the legislature spent the money — $12-Billion dollars – but failed to find a fix for oil taxes,  a permanent solution to education funding, or a way to get gas to market.

The Senate spent much of the session on its response to the governor’s tax plan that passed the House last year.  It would have drastically reduced oil taxes in an attempt to increase North Slope production and throughput on the TransAlaska Pipeline.  The Finance Committee came up with a tax plan that could not get enough support to get to a vote.  And with two days left before adjournment – apparent success.  A bill that encouraged new development but left existing – or “legacy” – fields untouched.  Anchorage Republican Lesil McGuire said the goal was not to let the “perfect” get in the way of the “possible.”

This is an awesome bill.  I am excited to be here today to present this bill. And I am proud of the work the members of this body have done.  This is truly, in my opinion going to create a stampede for Alaska.

The bill was simple.  It expanded a plan to encourage new development away from the North Slope – by putting it in place on the North Slope.  It passed the Senate on a 17 to three vote.

But House leaders killed it by bundling it with a bill on movie tax credits.  Fairbanks Republican Steve Thompson found five  bills to roll into one.

SB23 will encourage commerce with credits for the film industry,  new oil and gas development in unexplored regions and the commercialization of natural gas to Alaskans,  quite possibly by Alaskans.

Before passing the bill out to a floor vote, members took out the tax.  That passed the House with a 36 to 3 vote.  The Senate tried again,  coming up with its own three-bill package. The goal by that time was saving the movie tax credit bill – oil taxes looked dead.   A point not lost on Fairbanks Democrat Joe Thomas.

We did not hang on to at least some opportunity for credits and incentives at Prudhoe Bay for new oil for either existing producers and certainly the new producers.   And I think we made a gigantic error in at least not trying to push something over there.

More money to educate Alaska’s kids was one of the last things brought out for a vote in the closing hours of session.  And,  as was attempted with oil taxes,  it was stuck onto another bill that gave lawmakers little input into the final product.

The House majority took the Senate’s idea of creating a way for the state to pick up pupil transportation costs and added a fifty percent increase in funding for vocational programs.  It then offered to increase money to communities that could choose to increase their share of paying for their schools.  It also added a plan by Democrats to open up the educational system for input from Parents.    Anchorage  Democrat Pete Peterson supported the Majority’s plan,   saying it was a compromise that was better than no school funding increase. However,  he said some school cuts are inevitable.

It’s unfortunate, but there will have to be some cuts in major areas across the state.  And I would like to see, if I had my druthers, the base student allocation funding connected to inflation so we wouldn’t have to come back year after year and haggle about what kind of increase – or if there’s going to be an increase in education funding.

The House and Senate agreed on how to handle the governor’s scholarship program – coming up with a compromise in the final hours that doesn’t give the awards to students who get a G-E-D diploma,  but does give more time to students who have trouble getting the courses they need.

The governor is giving lawmakers another chance.  He’s called a special session to begin Wednesday – dealing with an oil tax,  an instate gas line,  and tougher penalties for sex trafficking.

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