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House minority offers solution to legislative stalemate

Democrats, however, find it difficult to rise above fray in partisan atmosphere

Posted: April 28, 2011 - 9:48pm

The House Democratic Caucus is offering what they say can be a solution to a budget deadlock that has the Alaska Legislature 12 days into a special session with no end in sight.

The plan calls for the Senate to give up its budgetary attempts to protect energy project from a veto by Gov. Sean Parnell, while at the same time calling on Parnell to back off his threat to veto projects made during oil tax negotiations.

Then, those two sides and the House should negotiate which projects they find acceptable, House Democratic leaders said at a press conference Thursday.

“We think we’ve got an idea here that could get us out of this mess,” said House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

Among the issues delaying an agreement are concerns the governor might veto senators’ projects, concerned about the constitutionality of the Senate’s strategy for protecting its projects. That, combined with fears from Parnell and House and Senate leaders that whatever they do could set bad precedents and weaken their successors, has led to the current stalemate.

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, said the Senate should “decouple” the energy projects that it has tried to chain together to prevent any one from being vetoed without killing the entire package. At the same time, he said, Parnell should renounce his veto threat so senators don’t fear their projects will be targeted for failing to pass Parnell’s oil tax cut, House Bill 110.

Then, everybody needs to sit down and negotiate projects, he said, instead of holding dueling press conferences criticizing the other side.

“I’ve been watching this process for 30-odd years, and I’ve never seen a bomb-throwing session come to any good in the Legislature,” he said.

The Democrats then criticized the House’s Republican leadership for holding an invitation-only hearing in Anchorage today instead of holding hearings on capital projects in Juneau.

The House Leadership is hoping to get more favorable media coverage from journalists in Anchorage, Doogan said.

They want to “see if they can get their pals in talk radio to help them out,” he said.

Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, said it was important for each side to try to understand why the other sides were doing what they were doing.

“It’s not about pointing the finger, it’s about understanding where the issues are,” he said.

That came immediately after Guttenberg himself did a bit of finger pointing.

This session “went sideways clearly when the governor started talking about retaliating for (failure to pass House Bill) 110,” he said.

While the House Finance Committee is meeting in Anchorage today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding an informational session on the state’s ACES oil tax at the capitol that’s likely to challenge Parnell’s assertion the tax needs to be lowered.

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

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