JUNEAU (AP) -- Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, doesn't say much in the House Finance Committee.
Friday, he offered an amendment in a few soft sentences that would gut an increase in the state alcohol tax. Then he sat back as the turmoil broke loose.
''I'm gonna kill somebody!'' stormed Rep. Lisa Murkowski, R-Anchorage, as she strode into the room moments later after getting tipped to the move while chairing another meeting.
Murkowski is one of the biggest advocates of the proposed 10 cent per drink tax increase. ''Where's John Harris?'' she said.
She cornered Harris moments later and demanded to know what was happening.
The committee had been discussing a bill that would increase the state's alcohol tax by 10 cents per drink. The existing tax is about 3 cents. Harris, without explanation, offered an amendment to limit the increase to 1.5 cents, a boost so small that alcohol tax supporters said it is all but useless.
''This is not even worth doing,'' Murkowski said as she stood over Harris. Harris' reply was too soft to be heard.
But Murkowski blew up: ''Joe Hayes speaks for Budweiser -- not the entire Alaska liquor industry!'' she said.
Hayes, Alaska's highest-paid lobbyist the last two years, includes among his clients Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser beer.
Hayes and other lobbyists have been battling the alcohol tax increase. They fear it will depress alcohol sales and trigger a wave of new alcohol taxes nationwide.
Hayes was in the audience when Harris offered the amendment.
Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, watched the drama with a bemused smile.
''How do you like life in the sausage factory?'' he asked as Murkowski berated Harris. Bunde then leaned over to advise Harris: ''Careful, John. You don't want Lisa mad at you.''
Murkowski and Harris talked for a few moments more, agreeing, along with the proponent of the alcohol tax on the Finance Committee, Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, to discuss the tax over the weekend.
Harris rose, conferred with Hayes and withdrew the amendment.
After the meeting, Harris said he thinks the tax could hurt liquor sellers in Alaska. He added that as a conservative he opposes taxes in general.
''I don't want to be out front on this or any other tax,'' he said.
Hayes, a speaker of the House in the 1980s, left the meeting minutes after Harris pulled the amendment. Asked about how he feels about the tax, Hayes stiffened. ''I don't talk to the press,'' he said. ''It's nothing personal.''
Murkowski was still fuming about the assault on her cause two hours later.
''When those Budweiser guys come in here and tell us what to do, it gets me. Who are we listening to around here anyway?'' she said.
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