House speaker: Oil tax issue too important to drag out

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

JUNEAU -- It's important to Alaska's future to resolve the oil tax issue and not drag out the debate over the summer or until next year or the following year, House Speaker Mike Chenault said Monday.

Chenault, R-Nikiski, said it's imperative that lawmakers put in place a tax structure that will bring more investment to Alaska. He said he's willing to stay in Juneau until the work that Alaskans sent lawmakers to do is finished.

Monday marked Day 84 of the 90-day session and the House has yet to get an oil tax bill, raising the potential for a special session.

A key question: Can the House and Senate find middle ground on the issue?

The House last year passed Gov. Sean Parnell's oil tax plan, a proposal that's a nonstarter in the Senate and has been labeled by critics as a corporate giveaway with no guarantees the state will see more production for deep tax cuts.

Parnell has raised concerns with the Senate plan, which industry officials say raises taxes at certain prices and won't lead to the kind of investment the state desires to boost now-flagging oil production.

In order for the House to get a bill, a proposal must clear the Senate Finance Committee and the full Senate. The committee continues work on the bill, and co-chair Bert Stedman couldn't say for sure Monday when a bill might advance.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said Saturday that he thinks there's general support in his bipartisan caucus for the ideas in the bill, but he acknowledged the devil's in the details and that lawmakers want to make sure they understand what they might be asked to vote on.

"Nobody can accuse us of dragging our feet. I mean, this is complicated stuff. We want to get it right," Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said, adding: "Artificial deadlines are difficult to deal with. They're not as important as protecting the financial interests and the future of the state."

"The public expects us to get it right," he said later, "a reasonable split with the industry, but protect Alaska's future."

Chenault on Monday said Parnell could call lawmakers back if they don't finish their work by Sunday, the scheduled adjournment date.

Parnell's spokeswoman did not directly address the special session question in an email.

"The Senate Majority has failed to give the House sufficient time to evaluate a new tax structure," Sharon Leighow said. "The governor will continue to press the Senate for meaningful tax reform, reform that will incentivize new production."

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