AKLEG Recap: Day Seven gets fiscally frightening

Legislators attend the Juneau Rally for Life on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018 in an event that has nothing to do with this recap's headline. (Photo by Senate Majority press office)

The Legislature started to get down to business on Monday, the first day of the first full week of the 2018 legislative session. Some bills are already poised to make progress this week, most notably Sen. Peter Micciche’s smoke-free workplaces bill. It’s not all sausage-making quite yet as there are still plenty of overview hearings for legislators to sit through (the contents of which are frightening for those paying attention) this week.

Just 83 days (plus anywhere between zero and 259 days of extra time this year) to go.

The bejeezus

The Senate Finance Committee heard an update on the 2017 fall revenue forecast, and at least one member was worried about what he heard.

“Frankly what I’ve heard scares the bejeezus out of me,” said Sen. Gary Stevens, who joined the committee during a reshuffle in the interim. “We are assuming prices are going up. That’s not necessarily true. I’ve seen them go down in my 18 years here enormously. That can impact us and impact this state tremendously. I think it’s foolish to assume that prices are going to go up. It’s just a hope and a prayer that things are going to increase. I think we have got to address the issue and begin to find more revenues for the state. We cannot depend on oil any longer.”

Stevens, who’s running for lieutenant governor, didn’t specific just what sort of new revenue he would be looking for, but he’s previously supported the permanent fund restructure. He voted against the House-approved income tax when it was brought up in the Senate.

The reaction? Sen. Finance Co-chair Anna MacKinnon said the committee will be looking at the other “foregone revenue that the state is not receiving in other industries in the form of tax credits” like, she pointed out, the fishing industry.

Tobacco technicalities

On Monday, the smoke-free workplace bill by Sen. Peter Micciche had what could be its second-to-last committee hearing before finally reaching the House floor, a slim four years after it was first introduced. The House Judiciary Committee, known for getting off in the wilds of legal what-ifs, didn’t make it easy. Micciche and staff were peppered with all sorts of questions about how the law would work in one situation or another. Eventually Micciche had enough, when he sharply answered Rep. David Eastman’s question about smoking on fishing boats that also serve as someone’s residence.

“Rep. Eastman, I can spend a lot of time finding situations like that in any law that we pass in this building if I choose to. I can find an extreme approach to a problem in a bill, our statute books would be many times larger than they are now if we tried to work out every single situation,” he said. “If you feel that it’s worthwhile to clarify in that rare case, then I’d be interested to know what your solution would be.”

Amendments are due 5 p.m. today and House Judiciary Chairman Matt Claman plans to advance the bill out of committee on Wednesday.

It won’t be completely smooth sailing for the bill as one of its lasting skeptics, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, chairs the House Rules Committee, which is responsible for calendaring the bill.

Anti-abortion rally

On the same steps where hundreds and hundreds of demonstrators gathered for the Saturday Women’s March, more than a dozen anti-abortion legislators were joined by more than 100 anti-abortion demonstrators gathered Monday for the annual Rally for Life.

Those anti-abortion legislators are backing new legislation that would ban most late-term abortions except in cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother. In those cases, the doctors would be forced to deliver the fetus in a way–if it’s possible–that it could be put up for adoption as a baby. Planned Parenthood points out that this is essentially forcing those women to give birth.

Any abortion legislation, however, will need to go through the House Social and Services Committee. While all those anti-abortion legislators were busy giving speeches on the steps of the Alaska Capitol Building on Monday for the annual Right to Life rally, the chair of that committee–Rep. Ivy Spohnholz–had this to tweet out:

Oil taxes, again

The House Majority coalition is pushing ahead with another stab at increasing oil production taxes. House Bill 288 got a hearing in the House Resources Committee on Monday and will get another hearing this Friday.

According to Rep. Geran Tarr’s presentation, the legislation would raise the minimum tax on oil and gas from 4 percent to 7 percent and raise an between $222 million and $255 million per year. Still, much of the presentation was spent fielding combative questions and comments from minority Republicans, who trotted out the the standard lines about stability and fiscal certainty for the state’s oil industry asking Democrats to justify yet another attempt at the issue (which won’t go anywhere with the Senate steadfastly opposed to changes).

The House Democrats remain stubbornly fixed on oil taxes, and some members said it’d be an issue regardless of the state’s budget deficit. Tarr, for her part, agreed that there were concerns with continuing to fight over oil taxes, and said that’s why she introduced a bill that’s limited in scope. Rep. David Talerico, a former co-chair of Resources himself, said he at least appreciated that Democrats were keeping their tax bill focused this time around.

What we’re reading

What’s next

Tuesday

  • 8 a.m. HFIN. Corrections subcommittee – Department overview
  • 9 a.m. Senate Finance – Overview of the Alaska Permanent Fund by Angela Rodell, CEO
  • 9 a.m. House Majority press availability
  • 10 a.m. House Fisheries – HB 199 fish habitat protections by Rep. Stutes
  • Noon HFIN Military and Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee – Department overview
  • 1:30 p.m. House Finance – HB 286, operating budget; HB 285, mental health budget
  • 1:30 p.m. Senate Labor and Commerce – How are Alaskans innovating?
  • 3 p.m. House Health and Social Services – Testimony on HB 25, insurance coverage for contraceptives by Rep. Claman (currently in Rules); House Bill 162, background checks for by Rules by request of Governor.

2 Comments on "AKLEG Recap: Day Seven gets fiscally frightening"

  1. I attended the pro life rally. It was more than a handful of legislators (I counted 17) and close to 150 people. Might want to get your figures right before you go reporting something that is incorrect.

    • Thanks! My original count was about 8. “Handful” wasn’t meant to be disparaging, so I’ll be careful about that language in the future.

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