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After saying he would and then saying he wouldn't, Gov. Frank Murkowski on Monday said he will call a special session of the Alaska Legislature to focus on pressing issues, such as the state's fiscal gap, increased tobacco taxes, worker's compensation laws and capital projects.
The governor's flip-flops notwithstanding, a special legislative session really is much more out of necessity than it is gubernatorial prerogative. That's because of how little lawmakers accomplished during the regular session, and in spite of Murkowski's best efforts to offer what in many cases were workable solutions. The special session will begin most likely in late June.
Looming large for legislators will be long-term solutions to the state's chronic budget deficit, and school and transportation bond projects. The budget gap is of the essence, but if lawmakers show up in Juneau next month with a diminished sense of urgency in solving our economic woes, we can all thank the high price of oil.
The most critical issue for Murkowski is his proposal for using a portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund for the operation of state government. His recommendation for establishing a percent-of-market-value, or POMV, management system for the fund would have provided for some $650 million for the state while protecting permanent fund dividends, but the measure was defeated by the Senate in the closing hours of the regular session. A second pass at the proposal is a given during the special session.
If there's an upside to Murkowski's call for a special legislative session, it is that it will be limited to 30 days and proposed legislation will be limited to subjects designated by the governor. That will keep legislators from straying for the business at hand and pushing their personal agendas. Not that that would happen, of course.
Murkowski deemed it necessary to call a special session after it became evident that members of the state's House of Representatives weren't willing to call themselves back to the Capitol. That left the door open for Murkowski to do what legislators wouldn't.
Alaska's lawmakers need to recognize the importance of the work they're being asked to do this summer. There's no reason for a workable budget plan to be delayed until next year, and surely any lawmaker who is seeking re-election next fall can understand the logic in that.
If a special legislative session is as unproductive as was this year's regular session, heads should roll in November's elections. If any members of the Alaska Legislature are shoring up their re-election efforts while the state's business goes unattended, they shouldn't be occupying the office in the first place.