Alaska editorial: Extra session taxes public's resources

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Even when the Alaska Legislature meets in its regular session day in and day out from mid-January to mid-May, its actions can be difficult for the not-so-politically inclined to follow. Sure, a few topics get people excited anything having to do with seniors, school funding and the proposed gas line, for example but, for the most part, those government goings-on seem pretty irrelevant unless you're a politics junkie.

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That's why the Legislature's use of special sessions to complete unfinished business just boggles the mind. If legislators want people more involved and more informed and they should the way to do it is not through special sessions. Especially during Alaska's too short, too busy summer.

Currently, there are two special sessions scheduled: One will begin June 26 to keep the SeniorCare program, which provides assistance to about 7,000 elderly Alaskans, going and another is set for this fall to review the new oil production tax.

If legislators can't accomplish their work in the regular session, isn't one special session enough? Gov. Sarah Palin extended the seniors benefits for another month through emergency regulation. Why couldn't she just extend them through the fall when the Legislature already was scheduled to meet?

On top of multiple special sessions, legislative leaders have decided to hold the June session in Anchorage apparently because it's more convenient for those legislators who live within driving distance of the state's largest city. Never mind that the Legislative Affairs Agency has determined that meeting in Anchorage will cost the state more money. The agency estimates a three-day session in Juneau would cost $125,000 in Juneau and $297,000 in Anchorage.

Not to paint all legislators with the same broad brushstroke, but do lawmakers really think they can accomplish their work more efficiently without their support systems in place? What are legislative leaders thinking? If they decide they can hold a special session away from the state Capitol, maybe next year they'll decide it will be more convenient to hold the regular session in Hawaii. After all, it's sunnier and the chance of getting fogged in (or out) is practically nil.

The point, of course, is that legislators shouldn't be making decisions based on their needs or wants or convenience, but on all Alaskans' best interests. There's no way that multiple special sessions, including one being held away from the Capitol, serve the public good. They suck up time and money that could be put to better use.

And what lies ahead? Because of a voter initiative passed last November, next year legislators are required to finish the regular session in 90 days. So far, that looks like it may be mission impossible.

Legislators need to remember that the purpose of the 90-day session isn't to punish legislators but to help them to accomplish the people's work more efficiently. They should see it as a twofold directive from their bosses: 1. You need to spend more time in your home district. 2. You need to complete your work on time and starting next year, that's 90 days.

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