New majority leader says PF earnings likely non-issue next session

Posted: Tuesday, November 21, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Sen. Loren Leman, the new majority leader in the state Senate, said the thorny issue of whether permanent fund earnings should be used to pay for government operations likely won't come up.

''Right now because of high oil prices we've basically bought ourselves another year, maybe more than that,'' the Anchorage senator said. ''It hasn't made the problem go away, it just delayed it.''

The 14-member GOP caucus is expected to announce Senate priorities later this month, but Leman said he expects a proposed natural gas project and cruise ship wastewater discharges to be high on the list.

He said any proposal to move the capital or legislative sessions out of Juneau probably would not get serious consideration.

''I don't expect that's going to be advanced as a caucus decision. It is not a caucus priority,'' Leman said.

The Senate majority on Saturday announced it chose Sen. Rick Halford of Chugiak as Senate president, Leman of Anchorage as majority leader, Sens. Pete Kelly of Fairbanks and Dave Donley of Anchorage as co-chairmen of Senate Finance and Sen. Drue Pearce of Anchorage to chair the Rules Committee.

Senate Republican leaders also agreed to allow Democrats a second seat on Senate Finance, one of the Legislature's most powerful committees.

Senate rules allow Democrats two seats on the nine-member panel, but two years ago the majority voted to limit their presence to one. Although Republicans have the muscle to override the rules again, Leman said they decided against it.

''I've never been one to initiate a session by picking a fight; I always want to offer the olive branch,'' Leman said.

The move drew praise from Juneau Democrat Sen. Kim Elton, who said it shows the new Senate caucus is going to operate within the rules.

''I think the Democrats look at that and say ''Hey, good -- we're starting out fairly and there's an expectation we'll be treated with fairness.''

Elton said some of the state's larger problems probably will be ignored in the next session to begin January.

''I think it's going to be difficult to address some of the large concept issues like subsistence or a long-range fiscal plan,'' he said.

Instead, the Senate likely will focus on a proposed natural gas project and education issues, including whether the state should extend the deadline for a high school graduation exam.

The Senate majority is expected to announce its priorities Nov. 27.

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