SPECIAL LIMPING INTO THE HOME STRETCH EDITION
Bills, We Got Bills
Yesterday was the 66th day of the legislative session. Puts me in mind of the fabulous old TV show Route 66, Tod and Buz off to discover America in a ’59 Corvette. And, of course, it is 2/3s of the Number of the Beast as found in Revelations, an extremely dour book of the Bible.
So it is either an invitation to escape (only 24 days left!!!) or a harbinger of disaster (extended session, special session, name calling!!!). Take your pick.
Today, I’m betting on what’s behind door #2. (I‘ll take chaos for 200, Alex.) In part, that’s because I have the king of all head colds. In part, it’s because being in the minority is an exercise in watching others take the ship of state onto the rocks. And, in part, it’s because this is my last session and I hope to get out of here without doing something I will regret.
But enough wool-gathering. Here’s what’s happening at the moment:
- The operating budget is in the Senate, where they threw it away and are writing a new one. It will, of course, look a lot like the House budget (which, in turn, looks a lot like the governor’s budget, which is really written by the state agencies) but will have enough differences to send it to conference. If you are looking for something to be done quickly, don’t come looking in the state Capitol. In this process, it will come out as an increase of between 5 percent and 10 percent, depending on who is doing the figuring.
- The capital budget is being heard in the Senate Finance Committee, where it has put on a little weight – maybe a billion, maybe two – since being introduced by the governor. The hearing on Wednesday night was so popular that it tied up the Capitol’s 75 lines for most of the night. When the Senate is done with their baby, they will send it to the House for even more fattening.
- The bill to give the Big 3 oil companies a couple of billion dollars a year for no good reason has changed numbers (what was HB 110 is now SB 192) and lost a lot of weight, from about $2 billion a year to about $400 million a year. That continues to make Sean Parnell mad as a wet hen. A smarter politician would declare victory and let us all go home, but he’s still stumping for an idea that puts the interests of his former employers in the oil industry ahead of the interests of the people of Alaska.
- And then there’s the bill to abandon public education (HJR16), the bill to find some way, any way to find the money to build the Knik Arm Bridge (HB 158) and the bill to allow citizens to shoot anyone they don’t like the look of (HB 80).
In other words, lots of fun for the next three weeks. And maybe longer.
It’s Not Always a Gas in Juneau
The first of the big controversial bills hit Finance like southbound train on a northbound track – it’s alright ‘aleavin’, but it won’t be back. HB 9 is the House Speaker’s bill to empower a new quasi-government corporation (the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation) with the intent of planning, and eventually building an in-state gasline to deliver North Slope gas to … the House Speaker’s hometown of Nikiski.
As best I can tell, the line will deliver expensive gas to Alaskans, require a lot of state subsidies and also presumably deliver some fairly expensive gas to Asia – where they may not need it for much longer. Along the way the bill grants a slew of remarkable powers to AGDC. They include the power of eminent domain (equal to that of the state), unlimited borrowing and contracting authority with (out of the public’s view) the ability to exclude people from putting gas in the line, exemption from the public records act and procurement codes and a virtual waiver from RCA regulation.
The sponsors added a 14-page amendment on Wednesday night to address the regulation issue, but it basically gives the RCA the right to approve contracts drawn up by AGDC.
The bill will likely make it to the House floor next week, and will likely be sent along its way to the Senate – where I assume it will run out of gas.
We do need to solve our energy challenges in this state, and natural gas will be a part of the equation, but not like this. HB 9 is wrong in so many ways I can’t even begin to describe them. Stay tuned, kids. We’ll figure something out.
Nice to see you … again.
When you become an elected official, a Biblical flood of supplicants rushes through your door every legislative session. Which can be difficult, considering my office is far smaller than 300-by-50 square cubits.
Now, I’m not complaining—I volunteered for this job and there are many important things people fly down to Juneau to discuss with me. Bills need passing, projects need funding and the gears of government need (allegedly) to keep on turning.
The problem is, very few “regular” citizens have the time, money or inclination to drop everything and spend a few days – or more, depending on the weather – in Juneau talking to the likes of yours truly. So, most years, I end up meeting with the same parade of lobbyists, executive directors, non-profit board members, corporate emissaries, mid-level bureaucrats, government relations directors (whatever that means), public relations flacks and city managers I met with the year before.
That’s why it was refreshing to have a group of young folks from the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action come through my office yesterday to talk about the issues that concern them—everything from toxins in commercial products to the dreaded Frankenfish salmon. In a building where “young” usually means “under-50,” it’s nice to hear from the young leaders of a generation that will be cleaning up the messes we’ve made long after I’ve hung up my boxing gloves.
Here’s hoping these young concerned citizens are among the people who come back to talk to the legislature next year.
If there’s anything the Capitol needs, it’s a few more fresh faces.
Free Pizza. Saturday. ‘Nuff Said.
Some readers pointed out to me last week that, if I’m concerned about the overall health of the Alaska Legislature, then I probably shouldn’t be dishing out free pizza this weekend at my annual West Anchorage constituent meeting.
To them I say: I know my district. And my constituents love pizza. Especially pizza of the free variety.
Here are the relevant details for the meeting, in case you missed them last week:
What: West Anchorage Constituent Pizza Party
When: Saturday, March 24, from 1:00-3:00 p.m.
Where: Romig Middle School, 2500 Minnesota Drive
Unfortunately, I have contracted the dreaded Juneau Flu, and am currently typing this e-news from the flat of my back. So that I don’t infect the populace of Anchorage, I will not be able to attend on Saturday. However, Sen. Hollis French and Rep. Lindsey Holmes will still be there, so make sure you give them a hard time for me.
My staffer, Charles, trooper that he is, has also bravely volunteered to fly home this weekend—solely so that my office will have representation at our constituent meeting, I’m sure.
Give him an extra hard time for me.