As legislative clock runs out, governor plans for looming special session
After 120 days in session, lawmakers still haven’t passed any pieces of Gov. Bill Walker’s fiscal plan, and time is almost up. According to the Alaska state constitution, lawmakers must finish work by Wednesday, but they’ll likely need more time.
The Legislature could extend session for up to 10 days with a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, which would mean support from 27 representatives and 14 senators. Sen. Gary Stevens, chair of the Legislative Council, said that’s unlikely. Another option is for Walker to call a special session that could last up to 30 days.
The constitution states he must do so within one hour after the Legislature adjourns or give 30-days’ notice. In an interview Tuesday, Walker said he’s not sure yet whether he’d give lawmakers a break between sessions.
“We’ll see about that,” he said, adding that he’s waiting to see what happens by Wednesday. “Thirty-six hours doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but in essence it is, so we’ll see if a break is appropriate, whatever works best to get the job done.”
Walker said all parts of his fiscal plan would still be on the agenda in a special session, including a broad-based tax. On whether it would be an income tax or sales tax, he said, “We’ll make that decision at the time to make the call. As far as what we’ll put on, we’ll most likely put on what we had before — the income tax.”
Before getting to that matter, lawmakers may be back to square one on a bill that leadership in both bodies has called the key to unlocking the governor’s three-part plan: oil tax credit reform.
After months of debate, the House passed a bipartisan compromise last week. On Tuesday, the Senate changed much of it.
“I think this new bill sort of guarantees that we go into special session,” said Rep. Les Gara in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “Instead of moving forward from a bill that was passed by the House — which was barely good enough for me to vote for but I was able to vote for it — it now rips apart the compromise.”
There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the state’s future – including the Alaska liquefied natural gas project known as AKLNG. In February, Walker and oil and gas producers involved in the endeavor said changes must be made to keep it economically viable. Walker originally hoped to provide an update in March on the project, but it never happened.
When asked Tuesday when he expects to have an update, Walker responded, after a long pause, “We’re just trying to get to the end of session. I’m sure after the session there’ll be updates.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated a two-thirds vote by the Legislature is required to extend the session 10 days. A two-thirds vote is required by each body, the House and the Senate, in order to extend the Legislative session. This has been corrected.
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