Monday, April 9, 2012

House speaker: With six days left in session Senate sits on key bills

Tim Bradner
Alaska Journal of Commerce

JUNEAU — With six days left in the 2012 legislative session, the state Senate is still sitting on most of the heavyweight issues, House Speaker Mike Chenault said Monday.

“The Senate still has possession of the capital budget, oil taxes and House Bill 9,” Chenault said in a briefing by House leaders in the capitol. “We have the film tax credit and education bills on our side,” which are priority bills for senators.

House Bill 9 is the speaker’s own bill that beefs up the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corp. to build an in-state gas pipeline.

Meanwhile, over the weekend the Senate Finance Committee passed out its version of a state capital budget totaling $2.63 billion, including federal funds.

On increased education funding, one of the hot-button issues in the final week of the regular session, Chenault said he believes the House will come to agreement on a “package” of bills for schools by the end of the week.

“I won’t say SB 171 (the senate’s school funding bill) is dead, but there are a number of people on our side who are concerned with a three-year increase in the Base Student Allocation,” that is in the Senate-passed bill.

There are school funding issues of concern to the House, however, including energy costs and rising school bus costs.

“We’re trying to put together the whole picture,” Chenault said.

Most of the discussion seems to be in the back rooms, however, because the House Finance Committee has held no hearings on several education bills passed by the Senate.

One issue in the House getting intense attention is an extension of the state’s film tax credit program which would wind down next year unless extended by the Legislature. A subcommittee of the House Finance Committee led by Rep. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, has been holding hearings and is due to report out a bill with proposed changes to the program Monday.

There has been intense lobbying on both sides of the bill by groups who see it as fostering a new film production industry for Alaska and others, including small Alaska filmmakers, who argue the program helps out-of-state producers more than them.

On the capital budget, Chenault said final agreements on the bill have yet to be made with the Senate but that the House is likely to add about $300 million in projects to the bill passed out of the Senate Finance Committee over the weekend.

Chenault said he is very frustrated with the senate over its inability, so far, to send its proposed oil tax bill to the House. Senate Bill 192 is still in the Senate Finance Committee.

“We can’t wait much longer. We don’t know what the problem is in the senate, whether there is trouble getting enough support to pass a bill or if the senate really wants to send us a bill,” Chenault said.

“It’s imperative that we put a tax system in place this year that will allow us to attract new investment. Otherwise we’ll just continue to watch the production decline,” he said.

On a possible extension to the session or a special session if there is an impasse on oil taxes or other issues, Chenault said he would rather have a special session than to just extend the session beyond the scheduled April 15 adjournment.

Extending the session would leave all bills in play, a distraction for legislators. A special session allows attention to focus on key issues.

If the governor calls a special session he will determine which issues are addressed, Chenault said.

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