JUNEAU — Key lawmakers could be ready to break the gridlock over construction and capital spending plans, although it was unclear whether the measure — the biggest sticking point in the Capitol — could be approved this week.
The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday was still holding its $2.9 billion version of the capital budget, to the irritation of House leaders and Gov. Sean Parnell. Rep. Bill Stoltze of Chugiak and Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka, finance co-chairmen from their respective caucuses, met late in the day to discuss options. Stedman said he met later with House Speaker Mike Chenault of Kenai.
Stoltze told reporters the meeting was “collegial” and “agreeable” but stopped short of suggesting whether the sides would bend over their respective positions.
“I think the more we talk, the better,” he said.
The proposed capital budget is a companion to the proposed $9 billion operating budget. While the latter is the only thing lawmakers must legally finish during the one-month special session that began Monday, it’s the capital budget that’s caused more friction.
Stedman said at 5 p.m. Wednesday that agreement on key terms in the bill had not yet been reached. But he said senators are flexible and want the House to have its shot — possibly soon — at the bill.
“The House has its process. It will have projects” to add, he said. “I respect that.”
In particular, it is senators’ proposal to glue together $399 million of energy-specific projects — including money for hydroelectric, wind and natural gas projects — that has brought opposition from the House and Parnell. An additional $100 million, including money for the state’s Roads to Resources program, collectively hinges on oil prices holding at $150 per barrel through the year’s third quarter.
The House and Parnell have continued calls this week that the Senate send over the capital budget. Parnell said the Senate had broken tradition by monopolizing the budget-making process.
But senators have stood firm, with some saying it was Parnell’s prior veto threat that created the standoff.
Parnell had said the Senate’s decision not to advance his key priority — a rewrite of oil taxes — would result in spending cuts.
Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, said an investment in energy projects is “critical” to protecting against high future energy costs, as is the need to “insulate” those projects from vetoes. He shrugged off House members’ suggestion they don’t know the contents of the bill, saying senators have been sharing their draft for well over a week.
“It was laid on the table right here in Finance for everybody,” Thomas said.
Meanwhile, the Senate passed a $135 million supplemental spending bill Wednesday.
When it comes to the supplemental, Senate negotiators wanted assurances from the House that the spending bill wouldn’t be changed. While the more contentious items had been stripped from the plan, there remained the possibility the House would graft onto the bill its own version of a capital budget.
Chenault, who met with Senate leaders on the issue, said he doubted there would be any changes to it. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines and co-chair of the House Finance Committee, said an agreement had been made and he expected the committee to pass the bill, without amendment, Thursday.
The committee heard the bill Wednesday afternoon, shortly after the Senate passed it and legislative leaders met behind closed doors.
Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-7582. The Associated Press contributed to this report.