Editorial: Deja vu all over again

  • By Peninsula Clarion Editorial
  • Monday, September 4, 2017 9:29am
  • Opinion

On Thursday, Gov. Bill Walker’s office notified lawmakers that he intends to call a fourth special session, this one to start Oct. 23.

We are waiting to hear what will be special about this one.

We’ve almost lost track of the special sessions — and extended regular sessions — in the past three years. This year, the Legislature needed its first special session to pass an operating budget. The second special session was used to pass House Bill 111, which reformed the state’s oil tax credit program. The third special session, called to pass a state capital budget, lasted just one day.

So what’s on the agenda for the fourth special session? Without an official proclamation — expected later this month — we don’t have a specific agenda. According to the email to legislators from Gov. Walker’s legislative liaison, “It has been and remains the governor’s intent to call the Legislature into special session this fall on the subject of revenue.”

That’s a pretty broad topic, and without a little more detail, we’re not sure why the administration would think another special session will be productive — especially one that would end just a month and a half before the regular session is scheduled to start.

One of the reasons given for needing to address the state’s budget issues is that next year is an election year, and legislators will be reluctant to make hard decisions. Quite frankly, it’s hard to imagine a how legislators could be any more reluctant than they already are; the multi-billion dollar deficit is hardly a new issue, and the Legislature has not been able to find enough consensus to address the revenue side of the equation in three years of trying.

When last we left the Legislature, the Senate majority had proposed a spending plan that included using a portion of earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for state services, but included a much smaller deficit that was to be covered by savings.

The House majority was pushing a plan that included use of Permanent Fund earnings as well as an income tax, a non-starter for the Senate.

The only difference between then and now, as far as we can tell, is the recent Alaska Supreme Court ruling affirming Gov. Walker’s veto of about half of the funds allocated for 2016 Permanent Fund dividends. The court also found that Permanent Fund earnings are not exempt from the usual appropriation process.

The governor’s office says that between now and Oct. 23, the administration will work with lawmakers to narrow the focus to “ensure a productive session.” An agenda will be issued by Sept. 22.

At this point, it would appear that the focus is about as narrow as it can get. The inability to pass a budget fix — despite agreement on the need to use Permanent Fund earnings — has left lawmakers with very few options.

Perhaps an announcement this far ahead of a special session is intended to jump-start discussion on the issue. But with lawmakers already declaring candidacies — including for governor — we are skeptical that anything new can come out of yet another special session.

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