Empire editorial: Moving special session adds insult to injury

Legislature can't get its work done in time, so it chooses to finish the job at a costlier venue

Posted: Sunday, June 03, 2007

When building contractors don't complete a job on time, they're forced to suck up the extra costs.

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When hourly workers don't finish their work, they get called on the carpet by their bosses.

When Alaska legislators don't get their work done, they hold a special session in a place that costs the state hundreds of thousands of dollars extra. Are these really the people you want to keep on the job when the next election rolls around?

Legislative leaders announced Friday they would convene a special session on June 26 in Anchorage to renew the SeniorCare program, which provides cash and assistance with prescription drug costs for about 7,000 elderly Alaskans.

It's bad enough that members of the House played politics and didn't push this much-needed program through after senators approved it. But to make matters worse, the House and Senate leadership decided to hold the session not in the state capital, but in Anchorage.

If the special session lasts three days, it will cost an estimated $297,000 in Anchorage, compared to $125,000 in Juneau. If it stretches out to 10 days, those costs will climb to $619,000 in Anchorage, versus $300,000 in Juneau, according to the Legislative Affairs Agency.

Legislators from the Anchorage area, no doubt, support holding the session close to home because it's more convenient for them. But if they can't get their work done on time, the least they can do is save the state as much money as possible by wrapping up business in a place that's less expensive.

What's particularly worrisome is that this session was the last to extend 120 days. After a voter initiative passed last November, lawmakers will be required to complete the regular session in 90 days.

It's hard to imagine they're going to muster the discipline to pull this off. The last thing the state needs, as oil revenue falls and budgets shrink, is for the Legislature to hold costly special sessions, particularly if they're going to be convened at more than double the cost in Anchorage.

Voters need to remember legislators work for them - if they can't get their work done in the time allotted, don't let them return to office.

When special sessions are a must, legislators need to hold them not where they're convenient, but where they're the cheapest. And that's the state Capitol.



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