Taylor wants stricter oversight of RCA, but no extension

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Sen. Robin Taylor is proposing several changes to the state's utility regulatory agency, but no extension of its sunset provision that is due to expire this month.

Taylor, a Republican from Wrangell who has led the charge against reauthorizing the agency, is proposing tighter rules for the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

Among those would be stricter rules about issuing decisions for utilities and provisions for a rotating chairmanship among the five-member board.

Lawmakers ended their second day of a special session called by Gov. Tony Knowles with no resolution on whether to extend the commission.

The Legislature has also not acted on a Knowles request for $2.6 million in funding to allow veterans to be admitted to the Alaska Pioneers' Homes system.

Knowles held a press conference on Tuesday with several veterans organizations to urge lawmakers to act on that plan.

But House Republicans have been opposed to it, saying it would have no immediate affect on veterans. Knowles measure would allow 100 elderly residents on a waiting list to be admitted in the state's assisted living centers, including about 20 veterans, said Jim Duncan, commissioner of the state Department of Administration.

The state currently has 180 elderly residents on a waiting list to get into the Pioneers' Homes and the beds are unfilled because of budget cuts, Duncan said.

House Speaker Brian Porter said Tuesday that his caucus supports a proposal by U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski to seek $16 million in federal funds to construct additions onto the existing facilities for veterans.

Murkowski, who is the GOP's leading gubernatorial contender, added the measure to a bill before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Knowles would not say whether he would call lawmakers back into special session if the veterans measure fails. But he pointed out that lawmakers spent more than $600 million for capital projects in the state, and they should spend at least $2.6 million for the state facilities.

The fate of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska also appeared in question late Tuesday, despite a compromise bill passing the House.

The House voted 34-4 to extend the term of the agency for two years and make other changes aimed at winning support among utilities.

Reps. Scott Ogan, R-Wasilla, Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, Bev Masek, R-Willow, and Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, voted against the measure.

The regulatory commission will sunset on June 30 and enter a one-year period of winding down. Commission Chairwoman Nan Thompson said it will curtail the number of cases it hears during that period and it expects to lose staff to other jobs.

Utilities have been critical of the commission for not making timely decisions and at least one company -- Alaska Communications Service -- has accused it of bias against that telephone company.

During several hours of testimony Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Taylor peppered Thompson with questions about the economic effects commission decisions have on state utilities.

Taylor also probed officials with General Communications Inc. -- ACS's nearest competitor -- about its role in drafting the legislation approved in the House.

GCI attorney James Jackson said he drafted a version of the bill after consulting with other utilities, including Alaska Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The measure would establish an advisory panel to study how the commission does its work and report back to the Legislature by Oct. 31, 2003. That panel would be made up of commission staff and representatives from the state's utility industry and be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.

Taylor said he favors a panel that would report back to the Legislature sooner. He is also opposed to a two-year extension for the commission.

Instead, Taylor said he favors allowing it to continue to operate next year and end its business if the next Legislature doesn't extend it.

The Judiciary Committee, which Taylor chairs, adjourned late Tuesday without taking action on a bill. It will resume meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Taylor said.

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