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Palin wants new session venue

Governor says Legislature should decide where to hold special session this fall

Posted: Friday, May 18, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin said she is likely to call a special session of the Legislature this fall to look at oil taxes and raised the possibility the session could be held outside Juneau.

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"We may have to meet where it's less expensive," she said.

The comment instantly raised fears that the governor, who as a former mayor of Wasilla endorsed moving the state capital, might be re-opening that debate.

Palin said that wasn't the idea.

"It's not moving the Legislature or moving the capital," she said.

Palin said the state needed to take a new look at the Petroleum Profits Tax, the tax scheme proposed by former Gov. Frank Murkowski as part of his defunct gas pipeline deal.

"We need to revisit PPT," Palin said at a Capitol press conference Thursday, after the end of the legislative session.

Last year's Legislature adopted the PPT after contentious battles, during which there were numerous close votes. Since then, four legislators have been indicted on bribery charges, raising suspicions approval of the tax was tainted.

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"Our oil tax formula was changed under a dark cloud," Palin said.

Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, didn't like the idea of holding a session outside Juneau, and she disputed Palin's suggestion of cost savings.

"I think it could be an enormous cost," she said.

Palin didn't speculate on where the session might take place, saying that was something that she'd have to work out with legislators.

A special session in Anchorage might result in travel savings, especially for Southcentral legislators, but would likely mean additional travel costs for legislative staff from Juneau and other Southeast points.

"Everything we operate on as a capital city is based here in Juneau," said Doll. "I don't see it as being a cost savings."

Pam Varni, director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, said there would be significant costs to holding a special session in Anchorage.

"We don't have adequate meeting space" for 40 representatives and 20 senators, she said.

Those numbers don't include the chief clerk of the House, the secretary of the Senate or their staffs. Each body has a sergeant-at-arms as well.

"I would assume they'd hire Anchorage pages instead of hiring experienced pages they might have here," she said.

Legislative financial and legal experts would probably have to travel to Anchorage as well,

"We've got our print shop here," she said. "We'd probably have to pay someone to print bills for us," in Anchorage.

Varni said she began trying to compile costs of a special session at a remote area immediately after Palin's press conference, but did not yet have any authoritative cost estimates.

Palin said special sessions last year cost the state $2.1 million, an amount she called "outrageous." One consultant last year was paid $3,500 a day for his services, she said.

Palin was unable to provide a breakdown of last year's session costs, including travel, per diem and consultants. Nor could she say how much the state could save by relocating the session.

Palin didn't say precisely when the fall special session would be. It likely would be scheduled after fishing season but before hunting season, she said.

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



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