Legislators hustle to wrap up session

Rural power, capital projects keep lawmakers in town

Posted: Tuesday, May 02, 2000

First, they were to be done before Easter.

Then it was April 25.

Now, a week away from the May 9 constitutional deadline for their departure, leaders of the Legislature are no longer making predictions about when they're going home.

They are using transportation-based analogies in discussing the finish of this year's legislative session.

Reps. Eric Croft and Ethan Berkowitz, both Anchorage Democrats, said they needed to see the ``showroom'' versions of measures addressing state employees' contracts, programs for children, rural power subsidies and public works projects. Croft said the majority, in the push to end the session, has been selling a package without letting minority Democrats give it a test drive.

``They're saying: `I'm not finished with building this car, but buy it,''' he said.

Berkowitz, minority leader in the House, said he's been hearing promises -- ``I'll only use the finest parts'' -- rather than solid proposals.

The House minority can keep the Legislature in town because its votes are needed to tap the Constitutional Budget Reserve. That state savings account is used to fill in the gap between state revenues and spending.

Senate President Drue Pearce, an Anchorage Republican, said the Senate is ready to leave. All it needs is the $1 billion capital budget for the coming fiscal year, which she said is being held hostage.

``The minority on the House side is withholding their three-quarter vote on the capital budget,'' Pearce said. ``We're ready to go. We're waiting on them.''

Speaker of the House Brian Porter, an Anchorage Republican, said the minority should realize that what they see today is as far as GOP caucuses will go toward addressing minority priorities.

``I think that they're now looking at the final package,'' he said. ``They'll agree or disagree with it. What they see laid out there is all the majority has available to give.''

Berkowitz said there's more there to get.

``It ain't over 'til it's over,'' he said.

It could be over quickly. It would take as little as a day after a House vote on the capital budget before the Legislature adjourns. The bill has to sit for a day before the Senate can vote on it.

Bob King, spokesman for Gov. Tony Knowles, said the Legislature has a week left to address the outstanding issues. More school projects should be included in the majority's public-works package, he said, and the GOP plan to cut state government across the board to pay for raises to state employees isn't acceptable.

King said Knowles has made his positions clear to majority leaders. Porter has said rumors are spreading that Knowles is trying to set up a special legislative session on rural school funding to get at another way to pay for state workers' contracts.

He said that if the rumor is true, it would be ``poorly received'' by the GOP leadership.

King said the rumor isn't from Knowles' office. And he said legislators have enough time during the regular session to address the governor's ongoing concerns.

If they don't, ``We obviously have options available,'' King said. ``But we're not making threats.''



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