Special session looms for Legislature

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell said Wednesday he will call Alaska lawmakers into special session if the Senate passes an oil tax bill by Sunday.

 

Parnell told The Associated Press that if the Senate passes an oil tax “at the last minute,” he would call lawmakers back for a special session. He said he wants to make sure the House has time to evaluate anything the Senate sends over. 

He later clarified that “last minute” is anything between now and the scheduled adjournment of the regular session Sunday.

Parnell said he would have to consider whether to call a special session if the Senate fails to pass a tax bill.

The Senate Finance Committee advanced an oil tax bill late Wednesday. Senate leaders have been working toward a compromise that has sufficient buy-in from members of the Senate’s bipartisan majority.

Before the committee’s action, Parnell said he was “not convinced yet” that the Senate will be able to pass a bill.

Oil taxes aren’t the only outstanding issues with regular session adjournment looming.

Parnell, who met with House and Senate leadership Wednesday, said he also wants action on the operating and capital budgets and a version of in-state gas pipeline bill, as well as $8 million for full funding for his performance scholarship program. 

He said he thinks all those could be completed by Sunday. If not, they could also be part of any special session.

Last year, lawmakers approved $400 million as an endowment for the scholarship program, but a bill establishing a fund for that money stalled in the Senate. This year, the Senate has proposed funding scholarships for last year’s graduates with earnings from the $400 million set-aside that are expected to total $3.1 million. 

The remaining $4.9 million of the governor’s request would come through a fiscal note attached to a bill that would create the fund but also change the terms for achieving scholarships and allow, for example, for students who take a high school equivalency exam, or GED, to qualify for scholarships. Parnell has rejected that bill, saying it turns the scholarship program “on its head.”

If there is a special session on oil taxes, Parnell said he would prefer one “sooner rather than later,” with timing between next week and June. 

If the bill is “completely different than anything anybody in the House has ever seen,” lawmakers may need some time out of session to gather more information, he said. 

“The Senate has run out the clock after two years — two legislative years — and for me to then jam the House into a session on a completely new proposition and expect them to finish it in 30 days could be a bit ambitious unless it’s something like what they’ve seen before,” he said.

Until a bill is finalized on the Senate side, he said he doesn’t know if the House would be able to finish within 30 days.

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