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Legislators look for ways to move capital budget

Unable to reach agreement with Senate, House may draft its own capital budget

Posted: May 9, 2011 - 7:58pm

With the Legislature remaining deadlocked on a capital budget containing possibly billions of dollars in construction projects, legislators are looking for solutions before the end of the 30-day special session next week.

Two days of hearings on energy projects by the House Special Committee on Energy may help with that.

The House may draft its own capital budget and send it to the Senate, in a break with precedent.

The energy projects are largely focused on lowering Alaskans’ energy bills, something that’s becoming increasingly important as fuel prices rise, said Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, co-chairman of the energy committee.

“The purpose of these hearings was to learn about the costs and benefits of the proposed energy projects,” he said.

The state’s capital budget is currently in the Senate Finance Committee, which has balked at moving it because House leaders say its contingency language is unacceptable to them and they absolutely will not approve it.

The contingency language groups about $400 million of energy projects in the estimated $3 billion budget together in a single package, meaning if even a singe energy project were to be vetoed by Gov. Sean Parnell, all the energy projects would be killed.

House leaders said that unconstitutionally increases the Legislature’s power relative to the governor because it limits his use of the line-item veto.

Pruitt said the testimony showed the projects should be judged individually, not lumped into one “take-it-or-leave-it package” as the Senate proposed.

Senators said they fear Parnell will retaliate against those who blocked his oil tax reduction by using the line-item veto to target their districts.

Pruitt said the Senate should pass the capital budget to the House in time for the projects it contains to help lower Alaskans’ energy costs.

“Many of the projects have the potential to do just that and it’s important that we move forward in a timely manner,” he said.

One option the House has is to pass its own capital budget. After the hearings Friday and Saturday reviewed some of its likely items, that strategy might be more possible.

“I’ve heard that the House might try to pass its own version of the capital budget, and the Senate would have to decide whether or not to take the House’s version,” said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and House Democratic Leader.

Kerttula opposed the oil tax reduction, and sided with the Senate leadership on that issue.

“I assume (a House version) would not have the contingency language,” she said, meaning the differences would still have to be worked out.

Later this week another House committee plans an additional hearing on the capital budget it doesn’t yet have.

Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, will hold a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee he chairs and look into the constitutionality of the contingency language. Attorneys for the Legislature and Parnell administration are expected to testify.

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

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