JUNEAU — Lawmakers said Wednesday they have inched closer to a deal about statewide construction and capital spending plans. But the negotiations remain slow and out of sight, with senators maintaining their effort to protect a slate of energy projects from Gov. Sean Parnell’s veto power.
House leaders said they made an offer to senators Tuesday of agreeing to remove major slices of that energy money — for renewable energy grants and home energy-efficiency construction subsidies — and deal with them separately.
Senate leaders said later they had agreed.
“It was their concern. We addressed it,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel.
Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, called it the fifth concession made as his chamber prepares to send the House the budget, which would stand just less than $2.6 billion after the change.
House Speaker Mike Chenault said he also asked senators to set aside another pot of money — for work on a proposed intrastate natural gas pipeline — for separate debate.
But House leaders maintained criticism of senators’ extended hold on the budget bill — a companion to the $9 billion operating budget, which funds the day-to-day operation of government. They favor use of the public committee process, where legislative panels from both sides get separate cracks at shaping spending plans, and House leaders pushed reporters to hold senators accountable for monopolizing control.
“We continue to stress the process that the bills need to go through,” Chenault said.
Senators suggested the House could schedule hearings on its version of the capital budget, House Bill 107.
The House Finance Committee has planned a trip to Anchorage on Friday for a meeting on specific aspects of the capital spending plan. Both members from the Fairbanks area say they will skip it and participate from Juneau through distance technology.
The meeting’s morning session will focus on energy projects included in a tentative capital spending plan, Senate Bill 46. That afternoon, it will meet with the Attorney General John Burns, who on Tuesday said the Senate’s strategy is unconstitutional. That opinion followed April 22 advice from a legislative attorney to Chenault that offered a more mixed view of senators’ decisions to date, which lean on the use of protective “contingency” clauses.
Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak and a Finance Committee co-chairman, said the meeting will ensure a fresh set of ears hears the discussion happening in Juneau. The Legislature is almost two weeks into a special session.
Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, said the meeting feels “staged,” partly because Anchorage residents can already participate in Capitol meetings through electronic media.
“This is where the job is, this is where the people that are negotiating are. This is where the votes get taken,” he said of his decision to stay in Juneau.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said logistics prevented her from traveling with the group. She said she sees value in an Anchorage meeting to help people outside Juneau understand the issues at stake.
Wilson said she suspects many, for example, don’t realize senators’ tentative energy package pulls $51 million for energy-efficiency subsidies and $60 million to reimburse TransCanada for work on a natural gas pipeline plan into one take-it-or-leave-it envelope.
Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-7582.