Special session off to sluggish start: Lawmakers still stuck on oil tax credits
The first day of the special legislative session came and went, with legislators working less than two hours. The House and Senate gaveled in for brief floor sessions, but neither body held a single hearing.
Last week, controversy over oil tax credit reform kept lawmakers from finding a compromise on a state operating budget before last Wednesday’s constitutional deadline. By Monday, lawmakers weren’t any closer to passing a budget.
In an interview Monday morning, House Speaker Mike Chenault said an effort was underway to gather votes for a resolution to resurrect the budget and other bills from the regular session to avoid having to start all over.
“That puts the majority of the bills that the governor’s asked for back in the position that they were whenever we gaveled out,” he explained.
House Minority Leader Chris Tuck said his caucus favors the idea, with one exception — House Bill 247, a bill to scale back the state’s oil and gas tax credit system. After the House passed a months-in-the-making compromise, Tuck said he’d rather start over again.
“For many of us in the minority, that wasn’t, that was a compromise, but we’re willing to let the governor take the lead on this to educate us even further,” he said. “I think that this is where we really need to bear down and focus on what these tax credits and our deductions are doing to the state of Alaska.”
Until lawmakers can find closure on the issue, Tuck said his caucus won’t give its votes to draw from savings to fund a budget. If lawmakers can’t pass one by June 1, pink slips will start going out to state employees. One way to overcome the controversy, Tuck said, is to take oil tax credits out of the budget for now.
“If we pass a partial budget that does not include the oil tax credits, then, yes, we could probably get somewhere on that,” Tuck said. “That way, everything else is taken care of.”
Senate President Kevin Meyer said if doing so were the only resolution for reaching a budget, he could support it.
“It’s not the best way to budget, but we could work around that,” he said.
Chenault said he thinks the House is close enough to passing a complete budget and that it shouldn’t have to resort to passing a partial one.
“I would hate to do that,” he said.
Gov. Bill Walker added another bill to the special session call Monday morning. House Bill 246, a proposal to create a loan system to help build infrastructure for smaller oil companies and replace cash credits that would be phased out under HB 247, was part of an original plan for reform that he unveiled last December. There are now 11 items on the agenda.
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