ANCHORAGE - The issues for the upcoming legislative session are beginning to take shape. And the big ones have to do with energy.
Lawmakers and a variety of civic leaders met to talk about them Wednesday.
The non-partisan public policy group Commonwealth North heard from the top two members of the Legislature, who both conveyed a sense of urgency about reforming oil taxes and finding a path to a natural gas pipeline.
Incoming Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said the biggest concern is the decline in oil moving through the trans-Alaska pipeline.
"We used to be number two in production. We’re now number three. And we're not competing with those other states in North America, but psychologically we are."
House Speaker Mike Chenault wants to get natural gas from the North Slope to Alaskans.
"...If we don't make a move to secure our own natural resources for the good of the state and the good of the people in the state, that we're going to be importing LNG from some either foreign country or the Americas or Canada."
With one legislator at each table, the action shifted to small group discussions, which the moderator emphasized should not be debate or politicking, but simply about policy.
One man asked Senator-elect Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, "How can the State of Alaska not have a five- and ten-year business plan to be able to work with that for the state of Alaska’s benefit?"
Micciche echoed that concern. "Our state has had a record of chasing our tails. And if we're going to get to the point where we have a well-considered development plan for the future that starts with energy, it's going to require statewide planning."
Senator-elect Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, told mental health professionals at this table, "I would like you to educate me and my staff more on specifically what your needs are, and where you see mental health going in the state, and what's your opinion on how do we improve it."
It’s still a month before the session begins, but the Legislature and the public are already talking.
The Legislature convenes in Juneau on January 15.
The Parnell administration has indicated that a bill to reform oil taxes will be waiting for lawmakers when they arrive.