From Lisa Demer in Juneau —
UPDATE: Gov. Sean Parnell, in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, confirmed that he is the first governor in Alaska to pull an item off a special session agenda. He said he consulted with the attorney general and the Department of Law before he took that step. Governors have added legislation to special session agendas, and Gov. Frank Murkowski once withdrew his call for a special session entirely, Parnell said.
If legislators want to keep working in oil taxes, they can call themselves back into special session, the governor said.
Meanwhile, senators in the bipartisan majority coalition met privately at least twice on Thursday. When the second meeting broke up just before 2:30 p.m., some didn't look happy but no one was ready to disclose what direction they were taking.
The Gavel to Gavel public television service is gearing up for an impromptu Senate floor session that is starting at 4 p.m.
ORIGINAL POST: The Capitol is still reeling from Gov. Sean Parnell's abrupt announcement Wednesday evening that he was pulling oil taxes off the agenda for the special session that he called.
Just about the whole building is waiting to see how the state Senate will respond. Senators had planned to make an announcement Thursday morning and some House members were lining up along with reporters to get into the Butrovich Room on the Capitol's second floor.
But just minutes before the press conference was to begin, the senators announced it was indefinitely postponed. The Senate's majority coalition of Republicans and Democrats has been huddling, as have Senate leaders. They should have the details of how they intend to proceed worked out by early afternoon, an aide said.
Among other things, Sen. Hollis French, a lawyer and Democrat from Anchorage, said he's requested a legal opinion on whether the governor can withdraw a bill from a special session, prohibiting work on the subject.
Legislative leaders said they hadn't heard of a governor yanking something from the agenda for a special session before. But a spokeswoman for Parnell, Sharon Leighow, said there have been instances were proclamations have been amended and calls have been withdrawn.
Parnell on Wednesday blamed his decision to abandon his proposal to cut oil taxes on the Senate, saying senators had hardened their position against the a big tax cut for the North Slope, which the governor contends is needed to spur investment in new oil production.
But senators dispute that and say they saw hope for compromise.
Parnell went so far as to say that "There are some in the Senate who believe that Alaska's oil decline is a myth."
No senator has said that, though one, Joe Paskvan, a Democrat from Fairbanks, made a reference last week to myths about declining oil production. Paskvan is the chairman of the Senate Resources Committee and has been holding hearings on the governor's oil tax proposal.
Paskvan's comments came at the end of an April 19 hearing in which Parnell's top tax aides took a bruising over their inability to provide justification for the tax cuts even though some of the senators' questions were provided in advance. Paskvan was referring in part to the theory that the oil tax system put in place in 2007, which significantly raised taxes at times of high oil prices, had led to a decline in oil production, an aide said. That's a myth, the senator said. Oil production has been declining since 1989, including a period when taxes were extremely low.
Maybe the governor saw that public opinion was against him, House Democratic leader Beth Kerttula said Thursday. She said she was surprised to see how many people commenting on stories posted online were against the governor's tax plan.
Maybe the governor was upset with the independent explorers, who supported a Senate proposal that would have given tax breaks for oil produced from new fields.
Maybe he saw he didn't have the support for across-the-board tax cuts in the state House, where members of the Resources Committee were also asking tough questions like in the Senate.
At this point, the only measure alive in the special session is House Bill 9, to develop a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska.
Senators are talking about adding other elements to that, such as a proposal for energy vouchers to help with high home heating costs.
But they could just gavel out and go home.