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3 things to watch for in the state Legislature

Posted: February 11, 2013 - 9:30am

JUNEAU — Work at the Capitol has been moving at a swift pace, with nearly one-third of the 90-day session over. Here are three things to watch for this week:

Budget

The Senate Finance Committee is set to start digging into the capital budget.

The budget tends to include infrastructure projects and regional or district-level projects important to individual lawmakers.

Senate leaders in describing the budget the past few years have referred to it as healthy and robust, a level needed to help keep the economy humming. The size of the budget hasn’t fallen below $2 billion since fiscal year 2005, according to the Legislative Finance Division, but expectations for next year’s budget are being tempered.

Leaders in both the House and Senate say they want to rein in spending amid continued forecasts of declining oil production and spending levels that many legislators deem unsustainable. Gov. Sean Parnell, who has shown his willingness in the past to cut capital budgets he considers too bloated, has called on lawmakers to agree to an overall spending limit.

Oil taxes

House and Senate Resources are scheduled to officially begin their work on Parnell’s proposed oil tax overhaul. Senate Resources has been holding informational hearings, helping to lay the groundwork for the bill’s arrival.

A special Senate committee on oil flow through the trans-Alaska pipeline last week advanced the proposal, SB21 in the Senate, but, in an accompanying letter of intent, said the action was “in no way an expression of support” for the measure in its current form.

Some legislators have raised concerns about Parnell’s approach to tax credits and his proposal to scrap the progressive surcharge that companies have said eats too deeply into profits when oil prices are high.

The surcharge also has also been credited with helping fatten state coffers in recent years. An administration official says the administration looks forward to explaining its proposal in greater detail and how it fits with Parnell’s philosophy for an oil tax plan.

Drug testing

The House Health and Social Services Committee on Tuesday is scheduled to hear HB16, which would allow for “random and suspicion-based testing” of adult recipients of cash assistance for illegal drugs and alcohol that impairs their ability to work or find work.

Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, in his sponsor statement said that while the state Department of Health and Social Services must provide public assistance to those in need, it’s not appropriate to “simply provide assistance without knowing whether the assistance will actually be fueling an addiction problem.”

Under the bill, the department could deny or suspend assistance to those who test positive and don’t comply with a treatment program, or those who refuse testing. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska raised constitutional concerns with a similar bill in 2010 that got little traction and died.

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