By Dave Donaldson
Neither the House nor the Senate met the ninety-day deadline in adjourning the session early this morning. But, after a lot of pressure involving some of the most important issues that have been before them this year, they got the job done.
The House and Senate began the final day of the session with members knowing it would be difficult – and that a successful completion would hang on one decision in the House: a Senate bill that separates oil and gas taxes. On the other side of the balance were four bills members of the House saw as having major importance. The decision would be bi-partisan – and it would end up needing two attempts to keep the package from falling apart.
House Finance Co-Chair Mike Hawker (R-Anch) led the fight for what legislators call in their own peculiar lingo — “decoupling.” That’s the concern that the state’s oil and gas taxes will dilute each other when gas begins to flow. Hawker sees “decoupling” as essential protection.
It is us providing an insurance policy against what is a very realistic scenario for calculating taxes in the future tha could have resulted in us losing tax revenue as a result of our commencing to export our natural gas resources.
Since the bill was introduced, the Parnell administration has argued against it. That was enough to spread confusion among legislators about the bill’s merit. Anchorage Democrat Bob Buch saw it as a tax increase.
I will have no problem pushing the red button on this, saying I will not increase taxes on the oil companies.
And fellow-Democrat Harry Crawford had based his decision on the administration’s argument that the bill would destroy an incentive needed to get the North Slope gasline started
This bill could be the torpedo that sinks our chances for getting a gas pipeline.
It came down to that one vote that everyone had expected with an outcome no one dared predict. The first time around, it failed. Two votes short. Getting word of the failure on the other side of the capitol, the Senate immediately recessed its floor session so members could help round up more House votes. It took several hours, but they found four. When it came up again in the House – with no debate – the bill made it. The tax change was sent to the governor.
In one of the highest profile bills of the session, the multi-Billion dollar Capital Projects Budget continued to grow as House members added $76-million for a new State Crime Lab. Eagle River Republican Bill Stoltze said the Budget wasn’t what he expected when he became Finance Co-chair.
It’s a bigger budget than I am comfortable presenting, but one I’ll be voting for. It’s one that reflects needs of Alaskans because every representative here is a representative of their community.
Anchorage Democrat Mike Doogan did not support it. He said the state can’t spend that much every year for very long. He put the total spending for this year’s session – including money from the federal government and other sources – and in all the various budget bill that have passed — at twelve Billion dollars.
What’s happened, put simply, is we had a bunch of money and we spent it.
It passed, though. Thirty to ten.
The other key bill dealt with over the weekend set up the governor’s merit based scholarship. After the governor mentioned that a special session might be needed to get it on the books, members began to look for a compromise with him. His plan was passed, but the money for the scholarships will wait until next year.
Added to the final day’s mix: incentives to encourage underground gas storage in Cook Inlet, disclosure requirements for corporate and union election advertising, a plan to reimburse school districts for new construction, and a new development team – with deadlines — for a natural gas line to service Anchorage and the Rail Belt.