Governor calls special session

Focus to be on fiscal gap, tobacco tax, worker's comp, capital projects

Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Gov. Frank Murkowski announced Monday he will call a special session of the Legislature this summer to deal with the fiscal gap and other unresolved issues from the regular session.

"I believe that we should finish the business we left unfinished, particularly the tobacco tax, the workman's compensation issue and, of course, the fiscal gap, which still remains in spite of the favorable price of oil," Murkowski said. The governor said he would submit legislation to deal with the issues.

Murkowski also said the agenda would include school and transportation bond projects. Some projects in the bond proposals that failed during the regular session probably would not be part of the debate, Murkowski said.

"I don't think we are ready to go to bond with a prison," he said. "I don't think we're necessarily ready to go to bond with some of the educational requests because I don't think we're quite that far along."

He said the special session is likely to be held at the end of June but he will wait to announce a firm date until after Memorial Day. Murkowski spokesman John Manly said the session would be held in Juneau.

The special session is limited to 30 days and proposed legislation is limited to subjects designated by the governor.

Murkowski threatened a special session in the final days of the regular session if lawmakers did not come to a consensus on a plan to fill the state's chronic fiscal gap. The Legislature failed to approve Murkowski's plan to use the Alaska Permanent Fund, which would have raised about $650 million for the state.

The 20-member Senate rejected the proposal on a 5-15 vote in the final days of the session.

After the session Murkowski said he would leave it up to lawmakers to call themselves back into a special session to find a solution.

House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, said prior to the announcement that a poll of some members of the House majority showed that lawmakers were not willing to call themselves back.

"If there was no willingness to do something, there is no reason to press the issue," he said of his discussions with the House majority. "It's a futile exercise."

He said many lawmakers expressed concern that a special session called by the Legislature would allow lawmakers to stray from a focused agenda and push their personal legislation.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said the special session should focus on the fiscal gap and not worker's compensation laws, but added: "I believe like the governor does that we ought to make a decision on the fiscal gap this year."

Elton, however, said lawmakers should consider a number of solutions, including broad-based taxes and oil industry tax royalties.

"I was surprised that the governor had called a special session," Elton said. "I think two things are necessary if we are going to accomplish POMV. The first is to have a special session and the second is to have a recipe. We now have a special session, but I'm not sure we have a recipe yet. And clearly the recipe at the end of the regular session failed in the Senate by a vote of 5-15, so there's going be some work that needs to be accomplished before the special session if in fact we're going to make this work."

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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