JUNEAU - An abrupt u-turn on the senate's oil tax bill might have left legislators uncertain about whether they will be in special session next week after all.
Late Thursday afternoon, Senate President Gary Stevens announced that Senate Bill 192 - which finally left the Finance Committee Wednesday night - would be sent back from the senate floor to the Rules Committee.
The next step is not clear, especially with adjournment of the 90-day regular session looming at midnight on Sunday.
On Wednesday night the Finance Committee concluded its deliberations on an alternative reform bill for oil production taxes. But there was almost no discussion, as the legislature's consultants made a final presentation.
The hearing concluded with a whimper.
Senate Finance Co-Chair Lyman Hoffman made the obligatory motion: "I move the Senate Finance Committee pass CS for Senate Bill 192, with individual recommendations, accompanying fiscal notes."
The bill was calendared for Thursdays senate floor session, but the 11 a.m. start time was moved back more than four and a half hours, as the 16-member Senate Bipartisan Majority met behind closed doors.
Minority Leader John Coghill speculated the long delay meant serious trouble among the 10 Democrats and six Republicans in the majority.
"If it comes out to the floor, chances are they have made some kind of a compromise. It would have been nice to have that discussion in committee, they didn't have that, and it will be nice to see what kind of a justification they have for that."
Governor Parnell has said he will call a special session if the senate manages to pass an oil tax bill, so as to give the house additional time to consider it.
What wasn't clear is what would happen if the bill failed in the senate.
Coghill said he likes some things about the Finance Committee's work, particularly the choice to base the progressive feature of the tax on the gross value of oil, not on company profits.
But he still doesn't think it goes far enough to entice more industry investment in exploration.
He said the four minority Republicans would vote no at this point, which means the majority has to find 11 votes among its 16 members to pass the bill.
Again, if the senate has passed an oil tax bill by Sunday, Parnell said he will call a special session.
In that case he sets the agenda.
Legislators could call themselves back in, with a two-thirds vote of the house and the senate.
But if there are not 11 votes in the senate for an oil tax bill, there might not be 14 for a special session.
And of course, the legislature could fulfill its only constitutional obligation - passing an operating budget - and then go home to a campaign season in which all but one of their seats are up for reelection.