JUNEAU -- As they prepared for special session to finish their work, legislators and the governor patted themselves on the back Monday for the accomplishments of the 27th Legislature and set a conciliatory tone -- for the most part -- for the weeks ahead.
Both House and Senate went past midnight and into Monday before adjourning, the Senate going the longest, to 12:39 a.m. Just as the celebrations were starting, Gov. Sean Parnell issued a proclamation directing both bodies to return to work Wednesday at 1 p.m. He had an hour to issue the order but took only 14 minutes.
For the temporary denizens of the Capitol anxious to return home, the call was the opposite of hearing that governor had commuted their sentence; instead, it was an extension of up to 30 days.
Parnell said the Legislature needed to resume work on three items:
• A House-passed sex trafficking bill primarily designed to give police and prosecutors more power to go after criminals who would try to entice girls in rural Alaska into big-city prostitution.
• A version of a House-passed bill that would advance construction of an in-state gas line from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska.
• Broad oil-tax reform that would not only encourage development of new North Slope fields like in a bill the Senate passed, but that would also advance investment -- and production -- in existing fields.
Four of the five components of the legislative equation -- Parnell, the bipartisan Senate majority, the Republican-led House majority and the minority House Democrats -- met with Capitol reporters in a series of press conferences Monday that stretched for hours. Only one official caucus kept to itself, issuing just a press statement -- the four members of the Republican Senate minority.
The sex trafficking bill, House Bill 359, got caught in the Senate's last minute rush to finish, and the senators in the coalition said there was no controversy over whether it was a needed law -- it was, they said. They said the bill would move swiftly in the opening round of the special session, perhaps reaching a vote and passage before the first day was out.
The gas line and tax measures were contentious during the regular session, and there was little evidence they would be any less so during extra innings. But the legislators said they welcomed the opportunity to start fresh after a couple good nights of sleep.
On oil taxes, Parnell said he would take the initiative and introduce legislation as a starting point. He praised the Senate's work on designing incentives for new fields and said the administration's bill would probably build on the ideas in the measure that emerged last week from the Senate Finance Committee.
Parnell said he agreed that bill would promote development, but because new fields are difficult to bring in, it would take seven to 10 years to see a significant amount of oil added to the declining flows of the trans-Alaska pipeline.
That's why taxes should also be reduced in so-called legacy fields, Parnell said. But giving tax breaks to BP, Conoco Phillips and Exxon for Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk will be much harder to sell in the Senate.
The House passed a bill last year that would cut taxes in those fields, but the Senate dismissed it as a $2-billion-a-year giveaway to industry without any guarantees in return. That bill, House Bill 110, wasn't even used a doorstop in the Senate.
The Senate Finance Committee attempted to craft something that could be approved by both Democrats and centrist Republicans in the coalition. But when the Republicans thought the tax levels were right, the Democrats thought they were too generous, and vice versa. The issue boiled down to whether the sacrifice in taxes to the state treasury would be exceeded by investment and production by industry, and both sides offered evidence -- or at least assertions -- to back their positions.
Oil companies made promises but no guarantees. The internal strategies, accounting and investment practices that might have shed light on their position remained trade secrets.
The gas line bill, House Bill 9, was the work of the House Speaker, Mike Chenault, and he tried to protect it during the regular session. He got it through the House, easily overcoming the efforts of House Democrats to modify it. But the bill was dismembered as soon as it hit the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee.
Chenault described the original bill as the only active effort to construct an actual gas line. It would build a relatively small-diameter "bullet line" from the North Slope to Southcentral, providing gas to utilities with plenty left over for export.
While House Democrats have always spoke favorably of gas lines, they said Chenault's bill was premature and would result in extremely high consumer prices unless the state paid substantial sums for its multi-billion-dollar construction tag. They were particularly peeved that the bill would authorize a state agency to begin construction without having to go back to the Legislature for approval.
The Senate agreed, and left only a small bit of the bill intact -- enough to keep the state agency alive and to allow it to view secret records of other companies in the business without having to reveal the information through a public records request.
And then it let the bill die.
Parnell said the Senate took too much out of the bill. But he also said he agreed with the Senate and the House Democrats that the bill should not authorize construction without a legislative vote -- one of the key features Chenault tried to save.
Parnell's position appeared to set the framework for a gas line compromise. Whether he could do the same for oil taxes is another question.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or 1-907- 500-7388.