Peninsula legislators look back on accomplishments, failures

Posted: Sunday, May 07, 2000

The 21st Alaska State Legislature may have adjourned last week, but their work continued into the weekend.

No sooner had the gavel dropped Wednesday night than Gov. Tony Knowles called the Legislature back into session to address contracts for state employees.

"We were anticipating the special session," said Rep. Hal Smalley, D-Kenai. "We felt it was best to deal with the contracts separately in special session."

In terms of cost, the timing couldn't have been better.

"It saves about $50,000 because we don't have to pay for transportation and per diem to get (the legislators) back to town," said Pam Varni, executive director of Legislative Affairs Agency. According to Varni, daily costs for the special session run approximately $25,000, which includes $10,000 a day for per diem and $15,000 for a skeleton support crew, supplies, and other miscellaneous items.

"During session, costs are probably double that," Varni said.

Since the the two-year session began in January 1999:

n 451 bills were introduced in the House of Representatives;

n 317 bills were introduced in the Senate; and

n 241 bills were passed (143 from the house, 98 from the Senate).

Lawmakers took care of special session business quickly (See related story, this page). And though big ticket items such as a long-range fiscal plan and subsistence solution were not part of their accomplishments, legislators said good work was done.

"My colleagues agreed that education, public safety and transportation were our priorities," said Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof.

Topping his list of accomplishments were the reopening of Department of Transportation maintenance sites, $4.2 million for new dormitories for Seward's Alaska Vocational Technical Center and $10.7 million for the university system.

"Creating an operating budget that had a $30 million reduction in it," was the response Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, gave when asked for the Legislature's most important accomplishment.

Rep. Gail Phillips, R-Homer, listed an endowment program to permanently fund power cost equalization, which provides a subsidy to help rural Alaskans meet staggering energy costs.

"We formulated an endowment so that the interest will be used for that funding every year," Phillips said. "It amounts to about $17 million a year that needs to be appropriated."

Other accomplishments Phillips pointed to included funding for the construction of five new schools throughout Alaska, a construction project on the first three miles of Homer's East End Road and upgrades to the Seward and Seldovia harbors, prior to their transfer from state to municipal ownership.

"I think this year one of the most important things is that we finished earlier than we've ever done since the 120-day (session) law went into effect," said Rep. Gary Davis, R-Soldotna.

"We know we can get by in less (time) if we put our minds to it. It bodes well for a 90-day session law in the near future."

Smalley said he was pleased to have found a channel for his bill regarding municipal assembly apportionment to finally pass both sides of the Legislature.

Written by Smalley to address voting specifically in the Kenai Peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna boroughs during times of reapportionment, House Bill 155 passed the House in April 1999 but died in the Senate's State Affairs Commit-tee, chaired by Ward.

"We finally rolled it into Senate Bill 120, an election bill," said Smalley. "I'm very glad we were able to do that because it'll be a positive gain for (both boroughs)."

Under the terms of the bill, Smalley said, municipalities can postpone elections until after state precincts are redrawn.

Peninsula legislators say they have busy summer schedules.

"I've got two major projects this summer: developing a long-range (fiscal) plan and statewide boarding schools," said Phillips, chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.

Phillips said the Legislature's failure to put together a long-range plan was a "huge disappointment." She reported that an interest in boarding schools has surfaced across the state, particularly in the Galena School District and the village of Takotna.

Although Phillips has announced she will not seek re-election, her busy schedule means postponing an announcement of future plans.

"But the first of January, watch out," she said.

Smalley said he will be talking to folks across Alaska on the issue of cruelty to animals and also addressing the roles of conservators and guardianship recently raised by the plight of Kenai resident Sophie Bradley.

A court-imposed conservator is managing Bradley's financial affairs against her wishes and those of two of her three sons. The conservator was involved after Bradley's third son, who is in a long-term dispute with other family members over his mother's estate, tried to gain guardianship of his mother's estate.

"Hopefully it will prevent cases like Bradley's in the future," Smalley said.

Like Phillips, Davis has decided not to run for re-election.

"I plan to spread my resume around," said Davis of his summer plans. "I want to try every opportunity to find a job close to home."

Torgerson will be relocating his office from Kenai's old court house to the 4-D Building on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna.

"I've never had an office in my district," Torgerson said. "This will be more convenient for me, as well as my constituents."

Beyond that, the 22nd Legisla-ture is a long way off.

"It's way too early to early to tell about next session," Torgerson said.

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