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Tensions remain high as special session work begins

Posted: April 19, 2011 - 8:47pm

Gov. Sean Parnell attacked the Alaska Senate Tuesday, blaming the body that refused to pass his bill reducing oil taxes for forcing the current special session.

In a letter to top House and Senate leaders, Parnell said the Senate failed to follow the standard practice for budget adoption.

“That process broke down this year when (the) Senate Finance (Committee) failed to pass the capital budget to the House in time to negotiate a way out before the end of the 90-day session,” he said.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, called the governor’s letter “a cheap shot.”

Parnell’s letter was one of a number of testy exchanges between the House, Senate and governor since the regular 90-day legislative session came to an abrupt end Sunday without action on a budget or a number of the Parnell administration’s priority bills.

The Senate said Sunday it adjourned because it had been unable to reach agreement with the House on the operating budget.

The capital budget, which provides additional one-time projects, is also stalled.

The operating budget, which runs state government and provides most of the funding for schools and some for local communities, is one of the constitutional duties of the Legislature.

Minority House Democrats, however, disputed who was at fault, and called the letter “unhelpful.”

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said it was Parnell who caused the budget roadblock in the first place.

It was in March when Parnell made an “unfortunate” statement that seemed to suggest he’d veto capital projects from senators who didn’t support his oil tax legislation.

“It was a statement that seemed to suggest that those senators who did not side with him should worry that their projects in their districts were going to be vetoed,” Gara said.

Parnell’s letter addressed that concern, saying “numerous claims have been made about why the Senate has not passed a capital budget, including claims about what I might or might not do with appropriations.”

Parnell didn’t deny the threat, however, and said the solution was for the Senate to pass the budget bills he wants.

House Finance Committee Co-chairman Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, a supporter of Parnell’s oil tax reduction, spoke on the floor after Gara.

“I’ve seen less spinning in a Tulsa trailer court after one of those big tornadoes,” he said.

“I don’t know why the governor wrote it, but I don’t think it was productive,” said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

She said the solution for the impasse is for Parnell to sit down with legislative leaders and work out which projects he’ll approve in advance.

Egan said the Senate Working Group was planning to send a letter in response to Parnell, but late in the day Majority Press Secretary Carolyn Kuckertz said it appeared that letter would not be sent in an effort to avoid further escalating tensions.

Also this week, Senate Minority Leader Charlie Huggins sent Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, a letter chastising him for the “unprofessional manner” in which Senate business was conducted during the adjournment Sunday.

The bipartisan coalition, headed by Stevens, that runs the Senate excluded the four members of the minority from the public process that evening, he said.

Huggins, R-Wasilla, called it “a disservice to the decorum of the Senate, the public process, and to transparency in government.”

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

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