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Legislative session could stretch past 90 days as chambers bicker over budget

Chenault: 'I will not be bullied, I will not be rushed' on capital spending considerations

Posted: April 14, 2011 - 10:58pm  |  Updated: April 15, 2011 - 7:33am
Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, listens to a bill in the Rules Committee at the Capitol Thursday. A meltdown over the nearly $3 billion budget could push the Legislature beyond it's scheduled Sunday adjournment.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, listens to a bill in the Rules Committee at the Capitol Thursday. A meltdown over the nearly $3 billion budget could push the Legislature beyond it's scheduled Sunday adjournment.

Tension in the Legislature rose to the boiling point Thursday, when Speaker Mike Chenault took the floor of the House of Representatives to denounce Senate pressure on the $2.9 billion capital budget and raise the prospect of going past Sunday’s scheduled adjournment.

The Nikiski Republican said the Senate was trying to force the House to accept its budget and the multitude of local spending projects it contains.

“I will not be bullied, I will not be rushed,” Chenault said.

It’s rare for a presiding officer of the Legislature to step down to the floor to participate in the debate personally, but it didn’t seem so this week as Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, did so to denounce Gov. Sean Parnell’s pressure to pass an oil tax reduction.

“It’s a real rarity,” Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, confirmed. She said her father, Jay Kerttula, a former House speaker and Senate president did so once, as did former Senate President Rick Halford, another legendary Alaska legislator.

Chenault copied the “bullied” comment from Stevens’ speech in an obvious jab at the Senate’s pressuring the House to adopt its version of the spending plan while resisting pressure to pass the oil tax rollback.

The Senate, he said, waited until Monday to roll out the $2.9 billion capital budget with several big, one-time projects for communities around the state, giving House members little time or room in the budget to add their own projects or review the Senate’s decisions.

“The House has not had an opportunity to provide its input, and in fact, hadn’t set eyes on it before the roll-out Monday,” Chenault said.

“In contrast, the House transmitted the operating budget to the (Senate) on the 10th of March,” he said.

Chenault also referred to Stevens’ charge the Senate was being rushed into a momentous oil tax decision, and saying that’s what the Senate was trying to do to the House.

“Now we’re in the position of having only one or two days to pass one of the largest capital budgets in the history of the state,” he said.

The House, late in the week, still doesn’t have the capital budget, he said.

Chenault also suggested the Legislature might have to go beyond the statutory 90-day end of the Legislative session on Sunday to do what needs to be done.

“We will make time for real review,” he said.

The state, he said, needs a better public process than it is getting out of the Senate, which he said was “disrespecting” the House and all Alaskans by failing to honor the process.

Despite the adoption of the statutory 90-day session length limit by voters in 2006, the Alaska Constitution’s 120-day maximum remains in place.

Last year both the House and Senate briefly exceeded the 90-day limit, and many legislators say they think they are legally able to go longer than 90 days if they choose.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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