Bill for legislative overtime now at $300,000

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Lawmakers have spent $300,000 so far this year going into extra innings.

Wednesday marked their 10th day beyond the 121-limit on regular legislative sessions. The Legislative Affairs Agency estimates each extra day of work costs about $25,000 and travel to and from Juneau adds another $50,000.

''Could you just put that on Senator Taylor's tab?'' said Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, when asked about the costs.

He was referring to Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, who has resisted reauthorizing the commission that regulates Alaska utilities.

The issue of reauthorizing the Regulatory Commission of Alaska is one of the reasons for the legislative overtime, and Taylor and Mulder have been on opposite sides of the debate. Without legislative action, the commission will sunset on June 30 and enter a one-year period of winding down.

But Taylor said he's not the one running up the tab.

''I don't have that power,'' he said. He blames Gov. Tony Knowles for calling lawmakers back to Juneau for legislation Taylor doesn't think is needed.

Knowles said the legislation is critical and blames lawmakers for not finishing work on it in the 121 days allowed by the constitution for a regular session.

The $300,000 cannot all be attributed to the battle over the regulatory commission.

Republican majority lawmakers initially extended their regular session to work out a deal on the budget and a school bond package with Democrats, whose votes are needed to balance the budget.

That took an extra five days, but Mulder, who is co-chairman of the House Finance Committee, said it was time well spent.

''The school construction package was such a significant issue and there were so many diverging ideas and approaches. It was really important that we get it done, but that we do it right,'' Mulder said.

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said the schools agreement need not have taken so long. He said Republicans waited until nearly the end of the session to begin negotiating with Democrats.

''I'm willing to share responsibility, as minority leader, for about a day and a half of extra innings, extra time, because we were holding out for schools,'' Ellis said.

After five days of overtime work on the schools package, legislators labored another two days in May in a session Knowles called on reauthorizing the regulatory commission and approving a package of veterans' bills.

The Legislature passed the veterans bills, although not with the funding Knowles wanted. The House of Representatives also passed the regulatory commission bill, as it had during the regular session, but the Senate did not.

Knowles called lawmakers back Monday on the same topics: reauthorizing the commission and providing funds to place additional veterans in the Alaska Pioneers' Home system.

The House on Tuesday passed a regulatory commission reauthorization bill for the third time.

Although Taylor's Senate Judiciary Committee held no hearings on the commission during the regular legislative session, the panel held four days of hearings in Anchorage over the past two weeks and two in Juneau this week.

Legislative Affairs Director Varni said the Anchorage hearings generated no unusual expenses, other than the cost for out-of-town legislators to attend.

Two committee members -- Taylor and Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole -- live outside of Anchorage and could seek reimbursement for travel and a special travel per diem while in Anchorage. They have 60 days to turn that in, and Varni said she didn't know what the cost would be.

On Wednesday, Taylor finally allowed a version of the regulatory commission bill to move from the Judiciary Committee. It was not clear early Wednesday evening if the measure would pass the full Senate.

Taylor still argues the commission could continue to function during its sunset year, and the special session need not have happened.

''The entire thing could have been taken up the next legislative session,'' Taylor said.

Knowles' Deputy Press Secretary Julie Penn disagreed. She said the commission could not function normally without being reauthorized.

''It would have been turn down the lights, close the door, get ready to go,'' Penn said, ''and the state deserves an active regulatory oversight agency protecting consumer interests.''

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