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Legislators fight session move plans

Palin still thinks fall meeting should be held outside Juneau, spokeswoman says

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Juneau's legislative delegation met with Gov. Sarah Palin last week, trying to persuade her that any special session should be held in the state's capital.

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"I think we began a very important dialog, and I think the dialog needs to continue," Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said.

Palin said she wants a special oil tax session of the Alaska Legislature this fall, and she wants it to be held some place like Anchorage.

Juneau's elected representatives support redoing the Petroleum Profits Tax without the involvement of several legislators accused of taking oil company bribes, but they fear a session held outside of Juneau could come at a high cost to the community.

They may have an uphill battle.

Palin is now visiting Alaska-based troops in Kuwait, but spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the governor was still thinking the session should be someplace like Anchorage, where a one-day special session was held last month. That was the first legislative session ever to be held outside Juneau.

"The governor would like the special session to be held somewhere on the road system," Leighow said.

Palin was in Juneau on July 16 for a one-day visit for a ceremonial signing of two Elton-sponsored bills. Later, the senator was joined by Reps. Beth Kerttula and Andrea Doll, both Juneau Democrats, to discuss the session location issue with Palin.

Doll said she tried to convey to Palin how important the issue was to Juneau, but the governor believed Juneau was "kind of paranoid" about the capital.

"I did say to the governor that this was a basic issue for Juneau," she said.

Elton said he told Palin that while Anchorage may have worked for a single day, it wouldn't work as well - or maybe at all - for a session long enough to deal with the complicated oil tax issue.

"A seven-hour session is different than a 30-day session," he said.

Legislators' staffers and legal and finance experts with the Legislative Affairs Agency are mostly based in Juneau.

"Trying to make difficult decisions when you're separated from your professional staff is much harder," he said.

A session in Anchorage is more convenient for legislators from Southcentral, but Elton said legislators need to be in Juneau for their constituents to keep in touch with them.

"They know how to get in touch with their legislators" in Juneau, he said. "If they send an e-mail, it will be received. If they pick up a phone, it will be answered."

That won't happen for those from elsewhere if the Legislature is in Anchorage.

"They don't know what hotel I'm staying in, whose office I'm sharing," he said.

In addition, "Gavel to Gavel," the privately funded legislative coverage network is based in Juneau.

House Speaker John Harris said he think Palin has already made up her mind to have a special session and probably hold it in Anchorage, Fairbanks or someplace in between.

"I don't think the governor is going to call it in Juneau," he said.

Kerttula said she's been working to convince other legislators that any special session should be held in Juneau, and several have publicly agreed with her, including Reps. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna; Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak; and Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

"It's the Legislature's job to decide where the Legislature meets," she said. "In the House there may not be enough votes to have it someplace else."

Mayor Bruce Botelho said he thinks if there is a special session, most legislators think it would be appropriate to have it in Juneau.

"I think there is an appreciation if a special session is called, given the complexity of the subject matter, Juneau is the appropriate place for it," he said.

Botelho said the earlier special session was unique and its work relatively simple. He said that session is unlikely to be a good model for an oil tax session.

Harris said he expects reviewing the oil tax to take a considerable amount of time.

"I'm thinking it's going to take a while, 30 days in the least," he said.

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



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