Legislators unhappy about session

Senior aid should have been approved earlier, some lawmakers say

Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Aid to Alaska's low-income senior citizens should have been approved during the regular legislative session, some members of the state House said, expressing their displeasure over the prospect of a special session.

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Though there were enough votes in the House during the regular session to approve some sort of cash assistance, varying views about the role of the federal Medicare program and the status of unfunded longevity bonus program kept representatives from reaching a resolution.

They adjourned May 16 without extending the SeniorCare program and will gather later this month to address aid to seniors. The SeniorCare program provides monthly checks of $120 to nearly 7,000 seniors but is set to expire at the end of this month.

"Absolutely, mortifyingly - if that's a Scrabble word - embarrassing," said Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, who commented Thursday while attending the ceremonial signing of Gov. Sarah Palin's natural gas pipeline legislation in Fairbanks.

"Obviously the SeniorCare issue is a tough issue," said Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole. "I don't like the way it's been handled. But I probably, when we get down there, I'll probably argue my case and get overruled."

A member of the Democratic minority said the issue should have been addressed.

"Not passing a SeniorCare program in the regular session was something that was ill-advised and ill-thought out," said Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks. "Now we have to go back and do the right thing. We should have done it the first time. People of Alaska expect that of us."

Adding to the sentiment is the dispute between the House speaker and the director of the Legislative Affairs Agency about the cost of holding the session in Anchorage.

Pam Varni this week estimated a three-day session in Juneau would cost $125,000 and more than double that, $297,000, in Anchorage. The cost of meeting space, staff transportation to Anchorage, a voting machine and computer equipment figured into her estimate.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, disputes her figures.

"Anybody who openly comes out and says these costs are unavoidable and, you know, that type of thing, I think begins to commit acts of insubordination," Harris said.

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