House, governor wait for Senate to approve broad-based tax
Tuesday was day 92 of the 90-day legislative session, but work in most of the capitol building continued as usual.
The House vetted bills that normally see hearings mid-session– smaller measures like ones commemorating people who’ve contributed to the state. House leadership indicated it’s now focusing on these bills because its work on fixing the state’s budget problem is done– now that the body has passed a budget, use of the Permanent Fund’s earnings, changes to the state’s oil tax system and an income tax.
The rest of the legislative session is shaping up to be a waiting game. The House and Governor Bill Walker indicate they’re now waiting on the Senate to pass a broad-based tax, like an income tax the House approved Saturday.
“We’re waiting for the Senate to learn how all of these components fit together in a very comprehensive plan that doesn’t burden one group of people over another group of people, and doesn’t drain our savings down to nothing and promotes a strong economy,” House Majority Leader Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) told reporters Tuesday. “They’re a little bit slow on the take so we’re giving them time to get caught up.”
Governor Walker held a press conference Tuesday to talk about a budget plan for the state. It was his first press conference on the issue this session. Walker said he’s invited leadership in both the House and Senate to meet with him in the governor’s mansion.
“I’m offering my participation on a couple-times-a-week basis, however long it takes, however often that they would like to because I think we need to pull this together,” said Walker. “And I’m more than willing to be in that role, and in that position to make that happen.”
But Senate President Pete Kelly indicates the Senate is not willing to compromise on an income tax and that meeting with the governor won’t likely change that stance.
“The Senate’s not going to an income tax, that’s clear. I don’t think there’s any path away from that,” Kelly said.
“I don’t mind meeting with the governor, he’s not the mediator in this. This is a disagreement between the two bodies, and he’s not the mediator. His background and his experience as a lawsuit lawyer, those are not people that bring people together, they actually get in-between people and take sides and usually take hostages, too. So I don’t think it’s a role he’s really comfortable with and it’s really not appropriate.”
All branches agree on using the Permanent Fund as an endowment, also known as a percentage of market value, or POMV plan. But that’s as far as the agreement goes.
“I want to make this perfectly clear, that if the Senate thinks that we are going to get out of here with just a POMV, they’ve got another thing coming,” said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage), chair of the Rules Committee, which decides the bills that receive a vote on the House floor.
When asked how he sees the session ending, Kelly replied, “Oh, like they all do, we’ll figure it.”
That could mean Alaskans are in for a long stretch of gridlock this summer.
According to the Alaska constitution, lawmakers can continue working through May 17. After that, lawmakers can extend the session by 10 days with a two-thirds vote of the legislature, or, the governor could call a special session that could last up to 30 days.
Walker told reporters Tuesday he is prepared to call a special session, if necessary. The governor said a broad-based tax is a must-have for him this year. So far, the House’s income tax bill, House Bill 115, is the only one to pass a legislative body.
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