Inaction prompts new session talk

Governor raises issue of another special session while Democrats fear delaying tactics

Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Some House Democrats are accusing oil industry allies in the Alaska Legislature of trying to delay action on an oil tax increase until the 30-day special session ends Friday.

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Senate President Lyda Green, R-Wasilla, said there is no effort on the Senate's part to stall.

Gov. Sarah Palin said Tuesday she'll call a new session if legislators fail to act on the oil tax bill she calls "Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share."

The Senate Judiciary Committee adopted its bill more than a week ago, after it had passed through the Senate Resources Committee. The Senate bill has been stalled in the Finance Committee since then.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, accused bill opponents of "trying to run out the clock" on the bill. He declined to say who he thought was orchestrating that strategy.

Finance Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said legislative staff were busy drafting a substitute bill, which he suggested would include several changes, including lowering the proposed tax rate from 25 percent of profits to 22.5 percent and eliminating a standard deduction provision adopted by the House.

Stedman adjourned the committee meeting for the day Tuesday afternoon, promising a bill in time for work to begin on it this morning.

"I'm beginning to get concerned," said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Green told KTUU-TV Tuesday she doubted that there was time left to hold a conference committee on the bill.

After passing the Finance Committee, the bill must pass the full Senate. Then, if it is not identical to the House bill, it will have to be sent to the House for either approval, or appointment of a conference committee to work out the differences.

Gara said the compromise bill passed by the House might be scuttled if there are significant changes.

"They will crash and burn this bill on the Senate side if they try to move the rate down," Gara said at a press conference Tuesday.

In an e-mail to constituents, Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, said the Legislature may be unable to move any bill.

"We may not do anything at all. The oil companies don't want us to increase taxes, and scandal or no scandal, they are still a potent political force," he said.

Legislative consultant Barry Pulliam, with the firm Econ One Research, Monday presented the Senate Finance Committee with an analysis of the House bill that showed it would raise an amount of revenue almost identical to the Senate Judiciary Committee bill at various likely oil prices..

French questioned why the committee had been unable to take action, or even get a draft bill introduced since the Senate Judiciary Committee completed action on its bill Saturday, Nov. 3.

"I'll give them Sunday, but they've had nine days now to get the bill done," said French.

A spokeswoman for Palin said she still hoped for a bill, but was prepared to act if she needed to.

"She is going to call a special session if there is not a bill on Friday," said Palin aide Sharon Leighow. The dates of that session will be announced then, she said.

House Speaker John Harris said he'd prefer an additional special session be held after the Thanksgiving holiday, if it had to be held.

"His preference is to let people go home and spend Thanksgiving with their families," a Harris staff member said.

Stedman made statements Tuesday indicating he still hoped to finish the bill during the current session.

"We want to be finished so we can all be home for Thanksgiving," he said.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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