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Hundreds of bills await next year

Alcohol tax increase, imposing income tax among stalled bills

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2001

JUNEAU -- Lawmakers passed 103 bills this year, but about 400 more are still sitting in committees waiting for the Legislature to return in January.

They include bills to increase alcohol taxes and get tougher on drunken driving; measures to forgive student loans for teachers; and proposals for an income tax and employment tax.

Because this year was the first session of the two-year 22nd Alaska Legislature, bills and resolutions don't die upon adjournment. They can be taken up where they were left next year.

The income and employment tax bills are possible pieces of a long-term fiscal plan that some legislators plan to seek public input on this summer.

Rep. Bill Hudson, a Juneau Republican who was co-chairman of a fiscal policy caucus that met during the session, said the group plans to hold meetings around the state to talk to constituents about what should be done to bridge the gap between the state's income and revenues.

"We'll be bringing them a definite problem and a series of elements of a plan that they can, and we hope will, weigh into," Hudson said. "We're not so smug as to presume we have all the answers."

Hudson introduced the income tax bill this year as one possible piece of the solution. That bill hasn't moved from its first committee, House State Affairs.

Sen. Alan Austerman, a Kodiak Republican, another co-chairman of the fiscal policy caucus, introduced the $100 employment tax, which would come out of workers' first two paychecks. It is awaiting action in Senate Finance.

Several other possible parts of a long-term fiscal plan are also partway through the process, including a bill that would put a greater percentage of new oil revenue into the general fund instead of the Permanent Fund. That measure, sponsored by Rep. Norm Rokeberg, an Anchorage Republican, passed the House but will have four committees to jump through in the Senate next year.

The Senate Finance Committee is also pushing measures billed as pieces of a long-term fiscal plan, including a proposed constitutional spending limit.

Several alcohol bills will also await legislators in January.

Rokeberg will be pushing a comprehensive anti-drunken driving bill, which made it all the way through the House and to the Senate Finance Committee before the clock ran out on the regular session this year.

"My number one goal is to move House Bill 4 as early as possible," Rokeberg said.

The bill's provisions include stiffening the fines and sentences for repeat offenders, requiring those with long sentences to accept treatment and taking away their license plates.

Rokeberg said he will amend the bill to take out parts of it that were incorporated into a measure that did pass this year to lower the blood alcohol level for drunken driving from .10 to .08.

Rep. Lisa Murkowski, an Anchorage Republican, will be working to dislodge her alcohol tax increase bill from the House Finance Committee, where it stalled this year. The bill would boost alcohol excise taxes by about 10 cents a drink.

Several bills intended to help address a teacher shortage passed this year, including a measure that would allow retired teachers to return to work. More expensive efforts at addressing the shortage didn't make it all the way through.

A measure by Rep. Joe Green, an Anchorage Republican, to provide partial student loan forgiveness for people who teach in areas where teachers are scarce passed the House. It will await action in the Senate Health Education and Social Services Committee.

Two broader and more costly student loan bills didn't make it out of the House Finance Committee this session.



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