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Juneau's state legislators outlined some goals Thursday for the summer and next year, including a possible attempt to secure another $28.6 million in federal stimulus money by overriding one of Gov. Sarah Palin's vetoes, lengthening the session and a proposed downtown office building for state workers.
Newly appointed Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan, Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula and Republican Rep. Cathy Muñoz were the featured speakers at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce's weekly luncheon Thursday.
Kerttula said a bipartisan effort is under way to research the Legislature's options regarding Palin's veto of $28.6 million in federal stimulus money for home weatherization and energy efficiency. Palin justified her veto with fears of overbearing federal mandates attached to the money. Legislators investigated her "strings attached" claim and found little to be objectionable.
Kerttula said there's a "cat-and-mouse game" between the Legislature and the governor surrounding some unresolved legal questions about a potential override. Even if a three-quarters majority override is successful, it's unclear if the Legislature can draw down the money because federal law says the governor must accept it, Kerttula said.
A second question is whether the Legislature must call a special session to attempt an override, or if it can wait until the Legislature reconvenes in 2010, Kerttula said.
On the length of the legislative session, all three said they will back a return to the historical 120-day standard laid out in the state constitution. Voters reduced it to 90 days through a statewide ballot question in a 2006 election.
Many lawmakers around the state have expressed frustration with the shorter, more intense sessions. Juneau's legislators were no exception.
"Ninety days was just brutal. ... The pace is just mind boggling," Kerttula said.
An appointee of the House speaker is studying alternatives, Muñoz said.
All three also said they're backers of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority's plan to build a new office building on the old subport property downtown. It's intended to house hundreds of state workers now occupying aging office spaces. Muñoz sponsored a bill authorizing it, which passed in the House but stalled in the Senate, where Juneau had no representative following then-Sen. Kim Elton's midsession appointment to an Obama administration post in Washington, D.C.
"I hope it will be done first thing when we reconvene" with Egan's help, Muñoz said.
Egan, whom Palin appointed to fill the seat on the last day of the session April 19, said the gap in representation had hurt the region.
"I'm afraid things in Southeast are getting left out. I'm learning that things get very parochial, very fast."
Kerttula said Juneau has a good team in the Legislature working for it.
"It's a very strong delegation you have. Really, all your bases are covered between the three of us," Kerttula said.
Egan alluded to their shared roots in the area.
"We're all personal friends, we grew up together. Our fathers were in the Legislature together," he added.
Before the speakers took turns at the lectern, chamber President Chuck Collins shared news from a fresh Palin administration statement announcing a legal appeal attempting to put the proposed $374 million Juneau access road back on track. The crowd heartily applauded the news.
Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.