Legislators hope to wrap up work in 90 days

Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Alaska Legislature is facing a lot of work and giving itself limited time to do it.

As the Legislature convened Tuesday, a number of leaders said they intended to be out of Juneau in 90 days instead of the 120 days required by current law.

"The public asked for that," House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said at a news conference with Republican leaders Tuesday after he was unanimously elected to another term as speaker.

Leaders in both houses said they were open to Harris' call for a 90-day session. Alaska voters decided narrowly last year to shorten the standard legislative session by a fourth, to 90 days.

That law does not take effect until the 2008 session, but Harris and others said it was a good idea to start this year.

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Senate President Lyda Green said the Senate hadn't been consulted yet on the plan, but she was willing to talk with her House counterparts about it.

"I certainly look forward to the conversation," she said.

Minority Democrats in the House said they'd help the Republican majority move the session along - if the Republicans worked with them.

"We're going to try to do our own work and be out in 90 days as the people have decided," said David Guttenberg, a member of the Democratic leadership from Fairbanks.

To do that, he said, the Democrats "need to have the spirit of cooperation from them that they've asked of us."

One Democrat sounded skeptical, if not opposed to a shorter session.

"I don't think we need an arbitrary timeline," said Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. The Legislature needs to get its job done, not race through things to meet a deadline, she said.

Some Republicans also acknowledged that with less time there would be less work done and fewer bills passed.

Among the tough decisions facing a short session: a budget that Gov. Sarah Palin has asked the Legislature to cut by $150 million and a long-awaited, multibillion-dollar gas line contract.

House Republican budget leader Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, suggested cutting the budget might be tough.

"I don't know whether that's realistic or not," he said. "If she wants to shoot for $150 million, I'll be there to help her out."

Kerttula warned that there was little to cut in a state budget that has seen many cuts in recent years. Harris acknowledged what Kerttula said was true.

"The reality is, if you are going to cut $150 million, you are going to cut services," he said.

Leaders from both parties declined to comment on possible gas line proposals, instead waiting for Palin's State of the State speech Wednesday evening to a joint session of the Legislature.

If the Legislature can't complete its work in the time allotted, it's not the end of the world, Harris said. There's always the possibility of a special session, he said.

The constitutional reduction in session length does not bar additional special sessions. Last year, the Legislature took four sessions to complete its work.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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