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Make a final list, check it twice 'n thrice
By Sen. Kim Elton


May 13, 2007

'Tis almost the night before adjournment and action in committees and on the floors of the house and senate are perfect demonstrations of the chaos theory at work. Applying my limited powers of divination, I'll try this week to predict what emerges from the confusion by May 16, the drop dead date for this first session of the 25th Legislature.

But before I begin, a disclaimer: any legislative 'expert' who tries to tell you what's really going on is probably like that fellow who tells you how to court and propose but has never been married. I am married, but believe me, success there still doesn't mean my analysis of the legislative end game will be spot on. Okay, here's our legislative to-do list: negotiate the operating and capital budgets; finalize the school funding package; pass a revenue sharing plan for Alaska communities; create a PERS/TRS pension shock absorber to protect state, city and school employers; ethics; make structural changes that enable the voter-mandated 90-day session next year; and finalize a recipe the governor can use to accomplish a gas pipeline.

Here's how I think these biggies may shake out:

Operating budget. The house and senate each passed its version of the operating budget for FY2008. A conference committee of three members from each body has been appointed to negotiate the differences. I don't expect there will need to be a lot of head-knocking to get agreement on the differences. The final budget will spend close to $3.5 billion from the general fund.

Capital budget. The senate is on the verge of passing its version of the capital budget to the house. It also will end up in a conference committee after the house tries to destroy the perfect work of the senate. (I'm a senator; I stick to this version of reality.) Again, I think the capital budget will go relatively smoothly in conference committee and we'll be spending in the neighborhood of $500 million from the general fund.

Ethics. We'll pass a strong ethics bill. Of course.

PERS/TRS. This is pretty much a done deal even though the house has not yet passed the bill the senate sent over. The senate bill says the state will pay a big share of the normal service cost and unfunded liability component for each PERS employee and the pension rate TRS employers must pay for their folks is set at about 12.5 percent. The bill lifts a huge financial burden from school districts and munis and it doesn't appear there are any speed bumps on the road to passage. Picking up the pension costs for munis and school districts will deplete the general fund to the tune of about $450 million.

School funding. Still no plan for funding schools and there's less than a week to go. Everyone is running their fingers down spreadsheets to see what each tweak or potential tweak works best for their school districts. At play is the bedrock base student allocation which assigns a base dollar amount per individual student, the amount for area cost differentials, and whether special needs student funding should be accomplished through a different formula. Throw in the PERS/TRS fixes and there should be about $130 million extra for school districts around the state.

Revenue sharing. The senate passed a revenue sharing bill that transfers some of the state's oil wealth to communities around Alaska. Under provisions in the senate bill, about $48 million will be divided among all communities. Each may use their dollars to pay for services, or tax relief, or do a little of both. This bill faces some stiff resistance on the house side where some believe revenue sharing and PERS/TRS relief gives too much to communities.

90-day session. This bill changes protocols that resolve some timing issues and other issues as we move to a 90-day session next year. It passed both branches of the legislature and is in conference committee. The major sticking point is when the 90-day session begins. Options range from the present start date in the first half of January to a start date in mid February. Best bet is the legislature will convene in the second half of January.

AGIA. Ahhhh yes, the big enchilada. The most simplistic version of what's going on is there is a battle between the big three multi-nationals and the governor. In bills passed today in the house and in the senate--the governor won. We're on the verge of a competition that hopefully leads to a gas line. So, them's the issues. Them's the best guesses I have. Them's the results I hope we get. If we don't get 'em we'll be busy redefining success soon after the curtain falls on this session.

Received May 11, 2007 - Published May 13, 2007



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Ketchikan, Alaska