Juneau's delegation prepares bills

State retirement plan changes, open budget process among goals

Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2008

With a new legislative session starting today, members of Juneau's all-Democratic delegation have several bills they hope to persuade their mostly Republican colleagues to adopt.

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They'll be facing an uphill battle, with the state's first new 90-day session mandated by the voters in 2006. That will give them less time to convince their fellow legislators that their ideas have merit.

They also have a sudden new challenge as well, stopping a renewed effort at moving the capital to Anchorage.

"Obviously, I think it's a terrible idea, and it doesn't make sense," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. Kerttula represents what's known as the "downtown" district, which also includes Douglas Island. She also serves as House Minority Leader.

Many in the Legislature, including Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, opposed the 90-day session. The short session may help in fending off a capital move effort, he said.

"It's hard enough to do something in 90 days, but it is easier to kill something," he said.

Elton will face the challenge of trying to accomplish things in 90 days when he tries to push a bill letting state employees decide between a defined benefit and defined contribution retirement plan.

That won't cost the state any more, and will give a more stable retirement to state employees, he said, but he isn't expecting support from the Palin administration for that argument.

"I think the numbers are incontrovertible," he said.

Elton said that even with some Republican support from within his Senate Working Group caucus, he'll have to work hard explaining it to other lawmakers.

The Senate Working Group is a bipartisan coalition that elected Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, as Senate president, despite having more Democrats than Republicans.

The working group defied expectation of some that the coalition would collapse, and gave Elton a seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

One of Kerttula's goals, from her leadership position among House Democrats, is to see an open, fair and transparent budgeting process.

A key issue this session is likely to be what to do with a flood of oil money brought in due to high oil prices and a new oil tax.

"It's our oil. It's our future," said Kerttula, whose Democratic caucus joined with Republican Gov. Sarah Palin and others to pass the controversial tax.

Now the question will be to make sure the windfall isn't all spent, she said.

"We have to save some of that money so we have a future," she said.

Some does need to be spent, she said. Education has been a long-time priority for Kerttula, Doll and Elton.

"We're not doing right by the students in Alaska," she said. "Now is the time to step up to the plate."

Doll said she'll work to ban a fire retardant chemical that's added to plastics, upholstery, fabrics, foam and other products.

For this session Doll has pre-filed a bill to ban the use of decaBDE, a fire retardant that is heavily used in North America and is found in the tissue of humans, polar bears, orcas and harbor seals.

Doll worked with Elton last session on the introduction of a bill to discourage use of plastic grocery bags with a new tax. This session she and Elton say they intend to keep pushing for that bill.

Doll also wants transportation and energy plans funded for Southeast Alaska.

"That means financing one, including a new ferry and completing road systems, one that has a vision for Southeast's future," she said.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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