Stutes, Stevens, Sound Off on Another Special Session

The Alaska State Legislature is in a three-week recess now, after giving up on passing a funding plan, the State House adjourned over the weekend, followed in short order by the State Senate. It didn’t take long for Governor Bill Walker to tell them when they were to come back: July 11th.

Governor Walker has been pushing the use of earnings from the state’s investment account to fund state government, but doing so would shrink Alaskan’s PFD check. The Legislature left Juneau with the Senate’s version of SB128 languishing in committee. The governor expressed deep disappointment that the bill never made it to the House floor for a vote.

District 32 Rep. Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, said the hold up is a disagreement over tax breaks to oil companies:

“I think that the problem that’s occurring in the House is that you have a lot of House members, of which I am one, that absolutely find it impossible to come home to our home districts and talk about either reforming our permanent fund or approaching an income tax, when we are giving hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to the oil companies,” Stutes said. “What am I going to do, go home and ask my constituents, ‘Yeah, we want half your PFD, and by the way, just make us the check out to Exxon.”

The oil tax credits remained in the bill as it wound its way through the Senate, which, according to District P Sen. Gary Stevens of Kodiak, didn’t surprise him.

“Ah, the Senate, frankly, is a little farther right, and more supportive of the industry, and even though I disagree the majority in the senate, there are those who do not want to reduce those credits any further,” Stevens said. “I’m in favor of it, I think we should; The house is in favor of it, so maybe we’ll reach a compromise on that and be able to reduce those credits some more. I don’t think we’re going to get rid of them, but I think we can reduce them without harm.”

Until then, according to Rep. Stutes, Alaska may remain a favorite place for Big Oil.

“There was an article I read, written by an executive of an oil company,” she said. “And his comment was, ‘There’s no place in the world that will come any closer to getting free money than drilling for oil in Alaska.’”

Governor Walker has called the Legislature back for another special session on July 11th, in Juneau. That’s just a few weeks before the August primary elections.

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