Walker to call fourth special session

The Alaska Legislature will try to find a new hope in the fourth special session of the year.

On Thursday morning, lawmakers were informed by email that Gov. Bill Walker will call them into another special session starting Oct. 23.

“It has been and remains the governor’s intent to call the Legislature into a special session this fall on the subject of revenue,” said Darwin Peterson, the governor’s legislative liaison, in the email.

The email went on to say that the governor picked Oct. 23 “as the best time to convene the Legislature in Juneau” for the fourth session.

Walker has not yet issued an official special session proclamation outlining an agenda, but the governor has previously said he is working on a tax measure intended to fight Alaska’s multibillion-dollar deficit.

The official proclamation is expected in late September. The Alaska Constitution requires that any governor provide 30 days’ official notice to legislators before calling them into session.

In a prepared statement, Walker said that between now and the official proclamation, “my team and I will work with lawmakers to narrow the focus on the various revenue options available to ensure a productive session.”

Lawmakers could also take up Senate Bill 26, a piece of legislation that would automatically direct a portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund’s investment earnings to government expenses. In the process, the Permanent Fund Dividend would be reduced.

The House and Senate have passed differing versions of SB 26, and the bill has been assigned to a conference committee. Lawmakers previously said that agreement on SB 26 was unlikely until they cut the state subsidy of oil and gas drilling.

House Bill 111, which reduced that subsidy, was approved by the Legislature in mid-July, at the very end of its second special session.

The Legislature’s first special session was devoted to the state’s operating budget; its third took place in late July and lasted just a single day.

If the fourth special session lasts more than a week, the Legislature will set a record for most days spent in session during one year. The current record was set in 2006.

The Oct. 23 start of the session will come two days after the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage.

Legislators have traditionally been reluctant to serve in a special session that enters the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A 30-day special session beginning in late October would wrap up before that period.

In a prepared statement, Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said he believes the Legislature needs to make progress on the deficit this year because 2018 is an election year, and lawmakers will be reluctant to make tough decisions in an election year.

“I am concerned that if action is not taken this fall the politics that inevitably spring up during an election year will get in the way of real and comprehensive fiscal solutions next year,” he said.

Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said in a prepared statement that the Senate “is committed to reducing state spending and passing a spending limit” but “we plan to give the governor’s revenue proposals a fair hearing.”

Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.

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