The Republican Majority in the state House of Representatives made new committee assignments and talked strategy last week in Anchorage in preparation for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 12.
Senate Republicans also announced plans to rework some committee assignments to accommodate incoming Sitka businessman Bert Stedman, appointed last month by Gov. Frank Murkowski to replace Wrangell Republican Sen. Robin Taylor.
Republicans maintain a majority in both legislative bodies, with 12 members in the 20-member Senate and 28 members in the 40-member House. One House Democrat votes and caucuses with Republicans.
Senate President Gene Therriault, a North Pole Republican, gave few details about the meetings and the majority's strategy for next session. He said talks with the administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski revealed budget cuts could be below $100 million this year.
Last year, Murkowski vetoed $138 million from the budget. At the end of the Legislative session, state budget director Cheryl Frasca said cuts for this year's budget could be about $250 million.
Therriault said that figure was largely based on the price of oil, which has increased since last summer. He said a number of other factors, such as departmental consolidations, must also be considered.
Murkowski's budget for fiscal year 2005 is scheduled to be released Dec. 15.
Juneau Republican Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch said the House Republican caucus also spoke with business and governmental entities throughout the state at the Anchorage meeting.
He gave few specifics on priorities for the House Majority.
"I think the sense of the Majority is to not adopt taxes and to look very independently at what the administration puts forward," he said, noting some smaller taxes might make it through the Legislature this year.
House Republicans also discussed state employee contracts being negotiated by labor unions and the Department of Administration.
"If there is going to be a raise, we have to finance that," Weyhrauch said, adding lawmakers also must cut the budget and deal with increases in other areas such as Medicaid.
Weyhrauch said his top three priorities this session are building a natural gas pipeline, providing funding for public education and adopting a plan known as the Percent of Market Value method designed to inflation-proof the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Under the House reorganization, Rep. Hugh "Bud" Fate, a Fairbanks Republican, will leave his position as chairman of the House Resources Committee for a seat on the powerful House Finance Committee.
Republican Reps. Nancy Dahlstrom of Eagle River and Bev Masek of Willow will replace Fate as co-chairs of the House Resources Committee.
Masek will step down as co-chairman of the House Transportation Committee and leave the panel, which will be headed by Rep. Jim Holm, a Fairbanks Republican.
Therriault has recommended some new committee assignments, but those proposals must be approved by the Senate Committee on Committees and confirmed by the full Senate.
Under Therriault's proposals, Stedman would replace Kenai Republican Tom Wagoner as chairman of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee. Stedman also would serve on the Senate State Affairs Committee and the Salmon Industry Task Force.
Wagoner would remain on the Regional Affairs Committee and become co-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee with Anchorage Republican Sen. John Cowdery.
Sen. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, would join the Senate Finance Committee.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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