The Alaska Legislature went into extra innings Sunday. The 90-day session limit was reached and Gov. Sean Parnell called a special session and told legislators to continue work on 10 bills, including the budget. The extra time was needed as the House and Senate remained deadlocked on budgets that Parnell had linked to passage of his oil tax reduction bill.
Parnell, in a late-night press conference, called on legislators to “lay down their swords” and get to work passing a budget.
He made it clear, however, that he sides with the House in the battle, saying it has been working hard for the people of Alaska, while the Senate had failed to act.
The Legislature had yet to pass an operating budget, the only constitutionally mandated duty of the Legislature.
The House’s Republican leadership, which backs the Governor’s proposal to lower the state’s ACES oil tax, moved Sunday evening to adjourn the 2011 Alaska Legislature, and asked Parnell to call a special session to finish its work.
“It is the desire of the House to adjourn on the 90th day … and today is the 90th day,” said House Majority Leader Alan Austerman.
Senate leaders at the same time sent Parnell a letter saying they were in a dispute about adjournment, which Attorney General John Burns said was considered a certification under the constitution that also allows the governor to call a special session.
Some House Democrats opposed the adjournment motion House Republican leaders proposed, but there appeared to be no official caucus position.
The vote in favor of adjournment was 33-7, with House Democratic leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, voting in favor, as did Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau.
Democratic Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, opposed adjournment, saying the Legislature needed to stay and finish its work and not involve the governor in a dispute between the two bodies.
“Now we have to get the governor to come in and break the tie,” he said. “The governor has no business in this.”
Gara blamed Parnell for starting the problem by threatening to veto projects from the capital budget if the oil tax reduction he’s pushing was not adopted.
At issue between the House and Senate is what’s known as “trigger” and “contingency” language in the Senate version of the capital budget which makes financing for come projects contingent upon certain oil prices being reached.
Those complicated triggers were inserted by the Senate as a way to keep Parnell from vetoing Senate-favored projects.
“They saw the only way to protect themselves from that veto threat was the language they put in,” Gara said.
Parnell said he had “a deep and abiding respect for the Legislature, having served here,” but said that the trigger language threatened to infringe upon his constitutional power to use the line-item veto.
The Republican-led House majority opposes the triggers.
Earlier, House Speaker Mike Chenault told reporters “we don’t think that’s responsible, to put triggers like that” in the budget.
He called the contingency language a way to “hold hostage” the governor.
House Rules Chair Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said the House was being “blackmailed” by the Senate.
Chenault said the way to resolve the deadlock was for the Senate to remove the triggers, but the Senate showed no signs late Sunday of relenting.
Parnell Sunday evening announced the special session narrowed in scope to 10 bills, including budgets, his scholarship plan, coastal zone management, vocational funding, and others.
When a special session is called, the governor has the ability to specify what topics will be discussed, and Chenault said that will help reach an agreement on the budget.
“We get to focus on a few issues,” Chenault said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.