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Some Alaskans ambivalent as Legislature frets

Posted: April 16, 2011 - 9:41pm

JUNEAU — While a budget battle is simmering between the state House and Senate, threatening to send the Legislature into overtime, many Alaskans in the capital city expressed ambivalence toward — or complete ignorance of — the gridlock.

Spencer Thomas, 22, of Juneau, said he could see the legislative session going past Sunday, and the 90-day legal limit set for it to meet, to get work done. “But if they don’t,” he said, “then it’s sure not worth it.”

The 2011 session has been so far characterized more by what has not passed than what has.

A bill to lower oil production taxes, a priority of Gov. Sean Parnell’s, passed the House after weeks of hearings but stalled in the Senate, where leaders said they did not have the information they needed to make a sound policy decision. Legislation that has passed both chambers has ranged from measures clarifying election law and expanding a senior benefits program to declaring a public gardens day and spelling out procedures for handling the state flag.

The fight threatening to push the Legislature past Sunday involves the capital budget, which the Senate has yet to pass out of committee and send to the House. A Senate leader wants assurances on the size and structure on the bill before advancing it. But House leaders have objected to language in the proposal that it considers unconstitutional.

Earl Fredrickson, an employee at a Juneau Subway restaurant often packed with legislative staff, said it didn’t really concern him how long the legislature stays.

“It doesn’t matter to me what happens,” said Fredrickson, 26. “But to my boss I’m sure it does.”

Business is cyclical in Juneau: the legislature brings business in the months from January to April, while the summer is dominated by tourists and cruise ship passengers.

“These guys all make me feel it’s worthwhile to get out of bed at 4:30 in the morning,” said Andrea Mogill, 45, a Juneau resident who runs a shop selling pies and other baked goods two blocks from the capitol.

No one seems to know how long lawmakers might stay in town. The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled meetings through Tuesday, but the constitution allows lawmakers to stay for 121 days.

A ballot measure to restrict the legislature to 90 days was passed in 2006, and Jay Ramras, a former House Representative from Fairbanks and one of the key supporters of the measure, said he sees this session’s extension as proof that the shorter session works.

“They’re demonstrating again that they can get to the end of the constitutional process before the adolescent games begin for the elite of legislators,” said Ramras. “It’s demonstrating that a shorter session is bringing fresh discipline to the legislature.”

Ramras added that he opposes a bill by Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, to allow the second half of the two-year session to extend back to 120 days. That bill has already passed the Senate.

Wasilla resident Spencer King said he had no problem with the legislature going over for a few days to hammer out issues. His only concern, he said, was that lawmakers were using the extra time for their own gain.

“Two days extra is (doing) better than the federal government,” King, 28 said. “Most politicians have their own agenda anyways. They could be digging in their heels for self-serving reasons.”

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