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Parnell calls for expanded special session

Extending gas tax suspension, other issues may mean Juneau location push

Posted: Friday, July 17, 2009

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell is calling on the Legislature to expand its special session, formally called Thursday for Aug. 10, to also include extending the state's current one-year gas tax suspension.

"On Sept. 1 gas prices are slated to rise as the one-year suspension of the motor fuels tax expires," Parnell said. "I think Alaskans are already paying too much at the pump."

Legislative leaders called the session specifically to override Gov. Sarah Palin's veto of $28.6 million in federal energy stimulus money and to confirm her lieutenant governor nominee Craig Campbell.

Senate President Gary Stevens said he expected the session to be held in Anchorage and last only a single day. Additional topics would complicate the session and don't have wide spread support, he said.

Other legislators have made similar calls to expand the session. House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said a call from Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, to also include consideration of building plans for Juneau's subport property couldn't be done in the one day most members want.

Muñoz was unavailable for comment.

Thursday, Rep. Pete Peterson, D-Anchorage, urged the legislative leadership to take up a gas price gouging bill he has introduced. His bill bars refineries from charging excessive or exorbitant prices for gasoline, diesel or heating oil.

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said if the Legislature was to consider Parnell's gas tax proposal, it should also consider Peterson's bill to make sure the public wasn't overcharged.

"If you are going to consider one you almost have to consider the other," she said.

Legislators have been reluctant to meet for more than a day, however.

"If it's a one day affair we can get in, get out, and be done with it," Chenault said, explaining his opposition for a broader session before Parnell had made his request.

Passage of bills takes multiple actions over successive days and typically can't be done in a single-day session. Veto overrides and confirmations can each be done in a single day.

While members of Juneau's delegation say any legislative session should be in the capital, others have said that while a single-day session is acceptable in Anchorage, anything longer should be done in Juneau.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said a longer session could increase the chances it will be held in Juneau.

"I'm upset for it being in Anchorage, but if it's more than a day, I really think it ought to be in the Capitol," he said.

Stevens said he preferred Juneau even for a single-day session, but didn't feel strongly. At the same time, Chenault's Republican-led caucus felt strongly it should be in Anchorage, Stevens said.

"The issue was really the House," he said. "They want to be able to come in the morning and leave in the evening."

Passage of a gas tax suspension likely couldn't be done in less than several days, even if the Legislature began with a bill introduced by Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, which is currently in the Senate Finance Committee, Parnell acknowledged.

The subport bill has already passed the House, but would still have to go through the Senate Finance Committee and a floor vote, Steven said.

"I'm very supportive of the subport building, but this is not the time to deal with that issue," Stevens said.

Parnell said extending the suspension of the state's 8 cent motor fuels tax would save Alaskans $40 million a year. That's how much revenue the state projected to lose due to the suspension.

Parnell acknowledged that it was uncertain that all of the savings would be passed on to consumers, but "you can bet they will be charged an extra eight cents at the pump Sept. 1 if we don't extend it."

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



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