JUNEAU — Three days before the start of the special session, legislators and Gov. Bill Walker tussled Wednesday over logistics while the session’s agenda remained somewhat in flux.
Republican legislative leaders, frustrated that Walker hadn’t released bills detailing his plans yet, said they would begin holding hearings Saturday afternoon at the Capitol in place of an hours-long mass briefing that Walker had planned. They said valuable time was lost by not having bills to review ahead of the session’s scheduled start Saturday and felt it would be more worthwhile to start delving into the bills through the committee process.
Walker responded by saying the administration would hold an abbreviated overview of its plans for any legislator who wants to attend at Centennial Hall on Saturday morning, before the House and Senate convene. He brushed off any suggestion of tension, saying the first day will get off to an earlier-than-expected start.
“I am optimistic that once we actually sit down at same table and start having discussions, it will be a productive process,” he told reporters during a news conference in Anchorage.
The special session agenda includes a proposed buyout of TransCanada Corp., one of the state’s partners in a liquefied natural gas project that Alaska is pursuing. Walker has cast this move as a way for the state to have a greater say in the project, but it would mean higher costs for the state. There’s also a gas reserves tax, without which, Walker said, Alaskans would have no assurances that the producer partners will commit to the next phases of the project.
Walker indicated the reserves tax item could be pulled if an acceptable agreement is reached with the producer partners that ensures their gas would remain available to the project if they withdrew.
Walker wants assurances the state would be able to continue pursuing the project if one of the companies pulls out. He said that matter was being negotiated up to the point he had to issue a call for a special session. With no agreement, the reserves tax item was placed on the agenda.
He said Wednesday that the companies have asked for as much time as possible on the withdrawal provision issue before he submits a reserves tax bill, and he’s honoring that request.
The project being pursued with BP, Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips, TransCanada and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. is the latest iteration of a gas pipeline that has long been seen as a way to help shore up state revenues amid declining oil production.