From Richard Mauer in Juneau —
Updated at 3:30 p.m.
Senate President Gary Stevens had a chance to reflect on what House Speaker Mike Chenault said earlier in the day, and agreed the House needed time with the Senate’s oil-tax bill.
His solution: continue meeting beyond the 90-day mark.
“I’m perfectly comfortable with just continuing with the session,” Stevens said. “By the constitution, we’ve got 121 days we can use if we have to. That’s fine with me. If the House needs more time, they need to take that time and do a proper job. I’ve said all along that the Senate wants to wind up with the best bill we possibly can and that means the House has to take the time to make sure they’re comfortable with it as well.”
Sessions are limited to 90 days under a voter initiative, but an initiative can be modified or struck down by the Legislature after a waiting period, which has long passed in the case of session lengths. The Alaska Constitution says sessions can last 121 days.
Stevens said he hoped the tax bill will pass out of the Senate Finance Committee by Friday or Saturday and quickly go to the Senate floor, and that the House can do its job in the week that remained plus about another week. If it took longer than that, it might be better for the Legislature to adjourn and call itself back into special session or get called back by Gov. Sean Parnell, he said.
“There are at least three options open to us: continuing for a few days without gaveling out, or going into a special session called by the Legislature or one called by the governor,” Stevens said.
Speaker: Don't expect us to pass a tax bill in a week
With two weeks to go in the legislative session, the talk everywhere is about the amount of work that is left and the amount of time available to do it in. The balance sheet is impossibly out of whack — as it always is at this point.
What will happen to oil taxes?
Most pending bills will die a quiet death, but oil tax reductions are the priority of the governor and House leadership. The House’s bill, 110, won’t move in the Senate, and the Senate’s bill, 192, is still in the Finance Committee, where it’s been since March 13. A rewritten version is expected to emerge this week.
At a House majority news conference Monday morning, the AP’s Becky Bohrer asked House Speaker Mike Chenault how likely it will be for the Alaska Legislature to finish business by the 15th.
“Which month?” responded Rep. Craig Johnson, sitting to his left.
Chenault chuckled, then said, “I think the Senate president (Gary Stevens) had all good intentions when he told us earlier in the session that we would get Senate Bill 192 to us with a month left. We certainly don’t have the month left. I think that it’s going to be very unlikely that we get an oil tax bill passed between now and the 15th of the month.”
Without knowing what will be in the final Senate bill, predicting its fate in the House — and whether the Legislature sees a value in going overtime to pass the tax bill — isn’t possible, Chenault said.
“We patiently wait to see what comes out of the Senate Finance and then we will take and make a decision based upon that,” Chenault said. “I don’t know about adjournment date — I just don’t see us passing a bill in a week.”
“I’m not going to put pressure on my resource chairman or my finance chairpeople to pass something out in a week just so we can pass a bill and go home,” Chenault added. “We will take our time, make sure that what the bill says it does, it actually will accomplish. If that takes a week, fine. If that takes six weeks, that’s OK too.”
Johnson, an Anchorage Republican, wasn’t quite so pessimistic.
“I think if the bill comes over and we have a chance to look at it and there’s common ground, that we can accomplish the goals of putting more oil in the pipe, spurring investment, then there will be something worth pursuing. If it comes over in such a state that maybe it’s not fixable, it’s going to be a long time, we have a choice of not acting on it,” Johnson said.
With an election coming up between the end of this session and the start of the next, advocates of deeper tax cuts for industry will be faced with a choice: take the more limited version that the Senate provides, or focus the election on the issue and hope that voters change the Legislature’s make-up.
But that would be gamble. A recent poll by Dittman Research showed Alaskans more in favor of the Senate’s deliberate approach, though not by much.
View an excerpt from the news conference:
House Speaker Mike Chenault and Rep. Craig Johnson discuss the possibilities of moving oil tax legislation this year at a news conference on April 2, 2012.