Analysis: No shortage of session winners, losers

Parnell leaves first session as governor smiling

Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

JUNEAU - Gov. Sean Parnell was all smiles as he faced reporters hours after the Legislature's early-morning adjournment Monday. He had reason to be happy.

Parnell had emerged from his first session as governor with much of what he wanted: a suite of bills aimed at cracking down on domestic violence and sexual assault, a new crime lab, $100 million-plus in deferred maintenance projects, a student scholarship bill, more marketing money for tourism and a cut in the cruise ship passenger tax.

Enough to campaign on and to pull him back from his threat of a possible special session.

"I think we're good without for now," he said.

But legislative leaders, who declared victory of their ownbefore bolting from Juneau for home or campaigns of their own, didn't just hand him a bumper sticker. The scholarship bill falls well short of the $400 million set-aside he wanted for the "Governor's Performance Scholarship" program, giving him instead a "legal framework" for building off the merit scholarship idea. The motor fuels tax wasn't suspended.

And that "reasonable" capital budget? Turns out reasonable is in the eye of the beholder; the bill bound for his desk teeters around $3.1 billion.

That leaves Parnell in a tough spot, needing to square his rhetoric about out-of-control spending by lawmakers, particularly among Republican voters, who will decide whether to advance him past the August primary, and deciding which projects are worthy when he's repeatedly expressed his desire to invest in Alaska and create jobs - and that's the same rationale senators used in describing their capital plan.

"We'll see what the governor feels," Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said shortly after the post-midnight adjournment. "If he thinks he has to veto projects, we hope not. But we'll find out."

Parnell has other decisions to make, too, such as whether to sign a bill separating oil and gas production taxes. The measure occupied considerable time and attention during the session and brought it to a fit-and-start end Sunday, with the House flip-flopping before voting to pass it.

Parnell told reporters he needed to better understand the bill that would change Alaska's system of taxing oil and gas together. Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, the finance committee co-chair and most vocal proponent of the change, argued the state needed to act urgently - before the start of the open season for a major gas pipeline, anticipated by May 1 - to guard against a potential $2 billion-a-year or more loss in revenue once gas starts flowing through the line. This was due to a potential dilution effect when oil prices are high relative to gas and could effectively lead, he argued, to the state "giving away" its resource.

Parnell, speaking Monday in front of Revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin, who's spoken out forcefully against the need for the change now, said he needed time to review the bill and doesn't control when the Legislature sends it over. His signature is needed to make it effective.

How did others fare? A look at some wins, losses and toss-ups:

• Rural schools. Legislation aimed at providing more predictable funding for schools - particularly those in rural areas - was passed.

• Animals. The Legislature passed an animal cruelty bill outlawing bestiality.

• Coastal management. A highly contentious effort to give locals a greater say in coastal development decisions faltered.

• Drivers. A bill to ban virtually all cell phone use by drivers died.

• The cruise industry. The lobby successfully got the passenger tax - which it blamed for at least partially keeping ships at bay - reduced in exchange for dropping a federal lawsuit over the fee.

• The public. Campaign finance and initiative disclosure bills passed; bills dealing with changes to executive branch ethics and expanding definitions for public records died.

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