Gas line, oil taxes, pay confront 2014 Legislature

Associated PressJanuary 26, 2014 

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Legislature starts its first full week of work of this session Monday, with lawmakers set to dig into details of plans to advance a natural gas pipeline project and salary increases for top officials.

The fight over oil taxes also is expected to continue casting a shadow over discussion on issues such as state spending.

The scheduled 90-day session is set to end April 20, Easter Sunday. Senate President Charlie Huggins told reporters last week he'd like to be done before then -- and Good Friday -- if possible.

Here are three things to watch for this week:

GAS LINE: At least seven hearings are scheduled this week related to the major gas line project that Gov. Sean Parnell's administration is proposing the state take an equity stake in. That doesn't include a consultants' overview of the liquefied natural gas business scheduled for Tuesday.

The Senate Finance and House and Senate Resources committees are slated to hear presentations on the pipeline services agreement between the state and TransCanada Corp. and the commercial agreement involving them, BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp., and the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.

The resources committees also plan to get an update on the project itself.

The companies have said the project being pursued, which includes a roughly 800-mile pipeline and would allow for overseas exports, could cost from $45 billion to more than $65 billion.

The agreement with TransCanada has been cast as providing a transition from terms of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which Parnell has said is no longer a good fit. The commercial agreement has been billed as a statement of intent for how the parties will move through a phase that includes preliminary engineering and refinement of costs. It is contingent upon passage of enabling legislation introduced Friday. Parnell said the state's share for that phase would be between $70 million and $90 million.

Parnell has promised a phased approach to the long hoped-for project, which he said would be more transparent than past efforts.

Senate Minority Leader Hollis French said Democrats' approach to evaluating the proposal is simple: "Gas line, yes. Giveaway, no."

French opposed the oil tax cut championed by Parnell last year, seeing it as a giveaway to industry, and said he viewed the gas line approach with some skepticism after that.

SALARY INCREASES: Senate Finance on Friday plans to hear a committee-sponsored bill that would reject proposed pay increases for top state officials.

The State Officers Compensation Commission last year proposed raising salaries for the governor, lieutenant governor and heads of the 14 main state departments.

Parnell in December said he would decline a pay raise for himself, in light of state budget constraints, but believed salary increases for agency heads were warranted.

The committee bill is one of several such bills pending. A final report by the commission was due by the end of this week.

For the raises to be rejected, a bill disapproving the recommendations would have to be enacted into law within 60 days after the recommendations are submitted, according to the director of the state Division of Personnel and Labor Relations.

• OIL TAXES: Oil taxes aren't on the Legislature's docket this year, but that doesn't mean the issue, and legislators' position on the tax change, haven't shaded discussions on things such as the budget and gas line. Expect more of the same, with voters slated to decide later this year whether to keep the new tax structure in place, and many legislators and the governor facing re-election.

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