State lawmakers get back to work in Juneau
The Alaska Legislature is up and running again.
The Senate and House gaveled in early Tuesday afternoon, bracing for what many expect to be another round of fights over finances, a budget gap exceeding $2 billion and tax bills.
Whether the session lasts 90 days, per state law, or 121 days as afforded by the constitution, is anyone’s guess, but many lawmakers appear ready for an extended version.
Still, in an election year when lawmakers and the governor want to spend time on the campaign trail, you won’t find even a whisper of special sessions -- which dragged well into summertime months and returned in the fall last year.
As promised last month, Gov. Bill Walker (I) is taking one more shot at an income tax as he enters the final year of his first term. Walker wants to reprise his failed proposal from a fall special session, but with additional twists.
Walker still wants a 1.5 percent flat tax on wages that gets capped at $2,200 a year—twice the previous annual Permanent Fund dividend distributed to most Alaskans.
If the bill gets approved, it would generate between $300 million and $325 million annually.
Walker wants a three-year sunset on the tax and wants the funds to be used for deferred maintenance projects he believes can inject money into the state’s lagging economy.
Alaska is the only state without a state income or sales tax.
Neither Republican nor Democratic leaders seem immediately receptive.
Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) remains steadfastly opposed any new taxes, just as he did last year.
“At this point, we are not that interested in taxing working Alaskans,” he said in a briefing with reporters held in his office. “We know there are fiscal challenges and we have to respond to them.
“Clearly, new taxes are inappropriate at this time. We have to let the bleeding stop in this economy and we have to let it heal up a little bit before there is any discussions in the nature of taxing working Alaskans.”
House Finance committee co-chair Paul Seaton (D-Homer) told KTVA he wonders if the bill’s intent is misplaced.
“We are using one of two revenue measures available to us – income tax or sales tax – and none of it is for balancing the budget,” Seaton said. “It’s hard to use up your available tools on not doing your primary job of balancing the budget.”
Exclusive of the budget debates, some lawmakers have their personal legislation they hope to advance.
Legislative Council Chair Sam Kito (D-Juneau) offers a constitutional amendment to limit the amount of time a person can serve in the legislature to up to eight consecutive years.
That would be four terms for a member of the House and two terms for the Senate. A person could return to office after a two-year break.
The Alaska constitution already limits a governor to two consecutive terms. That person could run again after sitting out at least one full, 4-year term.
“I think we have the opportunity with term limits to allow people to come in, do their public service do something else and then we have fresh ideas coming into the legislative process all the time,” Kito told KTVA. “I think bringing new ideas is always a good thing.”
House Rules Chair Gabrielle Le Deux (R-Anchorage) wants a special committee to handle harassment violations. the committee could be made up of four lawmakers and five members from the public.
Keeping up with the digital age, Rep. Dan Saddler (R-Anchorage) would like to see Alaskans permitted to carry electronic fishing and hunting licenses -- not just paper.
Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) is pushing for an outright appeal of the troubled crime bill SB91. Costello was an original sponsor of the criminal justice overhaul just two years ago.
House Resources Committee co-chair Geran Tarr (R-Anchorage) wants to tweak the minimum tax rate on oil production from 4 to 7 percent.
“We are hoping that since the Senate is not committed to diversifying our revenue, then the only thing we can do is look at existing ones and doing something very simple, which is changing a rate,” Seaton said.
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