Legislators wait for word on energy plan

Amount, arrival date of checks could hinge on legislative action

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gov. Sarah Palin has said she wants the Alaska Legislature to address soaring energy costs, but she hasn't said when.

Last week, she proposed giving every Alaskan who has been here six months or more $1,200, as well as suspending the state gas tax for a year. Both proposals would take legislative approval, however, and it's not clear whether the Legislature would approve, or even when it might be asked.

Palin is expected to meet with top Legislative leaders today to discuss when to meet on the issue, spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said.

Some Juneau legislators say they want it to happen soon, but the Alaska Legislature is now in the midst of considering a natural gas pipeline application under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act.

"I would wish we could do AGIA and have the decision, and then go in and do energy," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau. Kerttula also is leader of the minority House Democrats.

"Those are some of the issues that are going to be discussed Tuesday," Leighow said.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, is a member of the Senate Working Group, the bipartisan majority coalition that controls the Senate and elected Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, as Senate president.

Elton said there are probably 15 different positions in the 15-member coalition, but said quick action would be best, especially with the Aug. 26 state primary rapidly approaching.

"I do think we're getting very, very, very close to the hot political times," he said. "If we're going to be dealing with energy and AGIA, doing it sooner rather than later just makes sense."

Elton is one of the few legislators not up for election this year.

The Legislature is formally in session now, but has been meeting mostly outside Juneau. Legislators likely will not return to Juneau to take action on AGIA until after the Fourth of July holiday, legislative leaders say.

That will leave them having to decide whether to consider Palin's energy relief bill either while they are considering AGIA, after they've taken action on AGIA, or to suspend work on AGIA to take up energy legislation.

Each option comes with downsides. Delaying action on energy rebates until after AGIA could delay getting checks out to the public. Leighow said Palin would like to see that done by early September.

Pausing work on AGIA to take up energy relief could result in delay and possibly play into the hands of TransCanada opponents, who would like to see the state reach the Aug. 2 60-day deadline for approval under AGIA without taking a vote.

Without action by the Legislature by Aug. 2, the TransCanada proposal will die, under the terms the body set when it passed the inducement act last year.

Working on both energy relief and AGIA at the same time presents another risk, Kerttula said.

Two years ago, when former Gov. Frank Murkowski was pushing a gas pipeline contract with oil producers, there were accusations that some legislators were enticed with the offer of, or threatened with the loss of, crucial projects in their district to change their positions.

That's not a concern with Palin, Kerttula said.

"This governor is not going to do that; that's not the way she operates," she said.

Still, two issues of that magnitude should be decided separately, Kerttula said.

"They're both huge issues, both hugely important to the state, but both need to be judged on their own merits," she said.

Elton agreed.

"I want AGIA to be decided on its merits," he said. "I don't want to get into mixing the AGIA apples with the energy cherry pie," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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