The Alaska Legislature is likely to meet for a fourth special session starting in late October.
That was the word from Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, as he spoke to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon on Thursday.
“Pretty soon, after AFN, I think we’ll have (special session) No. 4 to talk about new revenue,” Egan said, referring to the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention, which takes place Oct. 19-21 in Anchorage.
Under the Alaska Constitution, a special session can be called if ⅔ of legislators agree, or if the governor calls lawmakers into special session. As it stands today, Walker would have to give lawmakers 30 days’ notice before they are required to convene — but if lawmakers don’t agree with the call, they could simply adjourn immediately after being called into session.
“Hopefully special session No. 4 will be here in Juneau,” Egan said.
Egan might be ahead of the game: Nothing official has been announced, and both House Majority staff and Senate Majority staff said the schedule has not been set. Egan is in the Senate Minority.
In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Walker said he was considering a tax measure to address the state’s deficit. Egan said a plan to divert Permanent Fund earnings to cover the deficit could also be on the agenda.
Legislators have traditionally been reluctant to serve in a special session that enters the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A 30-day special session beginning in late October would wrap up before that period.
Egan talked about the Legislature’s accomplishments during its extended regular session but spent most of his time with the Chamber on two things the Legislature failed to do: erase the state deficit and preserve funding for a road out of (or into, as Egan said) Juneau.
“Revenue. New revenue,” Egan said when asked for the Legislature’s most important remaining issue.
Egan said he supports a graduated income tax as part of the deficit solution, something that wasn’t received well by the Chamber audience. Several members of that audience voiced their support for a sales tax instead of an income tax, but Egan said sales taxes don’t adequately cover nonresident workers.
As a younger man, Egan worked in Bristol Bay and on the North Slope; he has frequently shared anecdotes about nonresident workers in those places paying income taxes to the state, and he repeated those stories on Thursday.
Egan said legislators appear less disconnected from the revenue problem and more willing to engage than they have been in past years.
While that might be the case, Egan said time is running out. The state has spent almost the entire balance of the Constitutional Budget Reserve, more than $12 billion over the past several years.
“We have to do something,” he said. “We have to support the governor in trying to get us back to talk about some kind of revenue generator. You can’t keep living high on the hog when you don’t have the hog anymore. We’re down to little piglets.”
The Chamber of Commerce has avidly supported Juneau Access, a $574 million effort to shorten travel time between Juneau and Haines/Skagway with a road and new ferry terminal.
Gov. Bill Walker canceled the project in December.
Though the Legislature voted to divert more than half of the $47 million in the project’s fund to other things, Egan said he remains a committed supporter of the road concept.
“I don’t care how many governors we have to go through. I’m committed to keeping it alive,” he said.
One tough question came from an audience member who asked whether Juneauites need to worry about Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau and a road opponent, of “letting the rest of the money walk out of the district.”
“That’s up to you,” Egan said. “We saved half of it.”
No one in the Chamber audience asked Egan perhaps the most pressing question of all: Will he run for re-election in 2018?
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Egan told the Empire as the Chamber audience filed out.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 523-2258.