Budget closeouts up for discussion in Legislature

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Sunday, February 22, 2015 9:54pm
  • News

JUNEAU, Alaska — The big news at the Capitol this past week was Gov. Bill Walker’s gas line proposal, one that some legislators fear will create an atmosphere of uncertainty over efforts to bring Alaska’s gas to market.

The state has been pursuing a major liquefied natural gas project, known as Alaska LNG, with BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp., TransCanada Corp. and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC. Walker said that will continue. But in an opinion piece published on newspaper websites Wednesday night, Walker said he was concerned about what would happen if that project falters and therefore, he wanted to increase the size of a smaller, in-state gas project so the state would have another option.

Whichever project is first to produce a “solid plan,” with conditions acceptable to the state, will get the state’s full support, he wrote. Or, the two might be combined at some point, he said. AGDC has been pursuing the smaller project on the state’s behalf.

The piece was posted hours after company representatives and a deputy Natural Resources commissioner told lawmakers the parties were working together and the project was on track for a decision next year on whether to move to the next phase.

The opinion piece “pretty much lays out that we’re in competition now with our partners,” said House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, who has raised concerns with Walker’s new plan.

Walker said while the companies are working well with Alaska now, he wants to ensure the state has an economically viable gas line “not beholden to potentially changing priorities” by the companies over the next few years. It’s in Alaska’s best interest to have two options, he wrote in an emailed response to questions Friday.

He said he doesn’t see that legislative changes would be needed, though Chenault said lawmakers are looking into that. 

It would be an in-state pipeline that would provide gas to Alaskans and to a liquefied natural gas terminal developed by others, Walker said.

Walker announced his plans when he did because he said Alaskans and the Legislature deserve to know the direction he’s heading on the gas line. Legislative leaders are looking forward to greater clarity on that direction.

Here are three things to watch:

 House Finance subcommittees aim to finish work that will inform the House Finance Committee’s rewrite of the operating budget. The House is taking the first crack at rewriting Walker’s proposed budget. A version of the budget is expected on the House floor next month.

The House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday plans to hear a bill from House Democratic Leader Chris Tuck that would set a maximum caseload for probation and parole officers. 

n his sponsor statement, Tuck, D-Anchorage, said increased caseloads diminish the amount of time that many probation and parole officers can spend with those under their supervision. He says that could limit their ability to help offenders successfully re-enter society.

Sticking with House State Affairs, the committee plans a confirmation hearing Thursday for Craig Fleener, Walker’s appointee to succeed Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott should that position become vacant. Fleener ran as a lieutenant governor candidate on an independent ticket with Walker last year. 

Walker ultimately joined forces with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Mallott, as part of a “unity ticket” meant to provide a greater challenge to Republican incumbent Sean Parnell.

Fleener has since been named a special assistant to Walker, advising him on Arctic issues.

The law calls for a new governor to appoint a successor to the office of lieutenant governor should that office become vacant.

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