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Alaska Legislature

House-passed income tax bill now in Senate

JUNEAU — The state income tax proposal has reached the Alaska Senate after the House, in passing it twice, was unable to change its effective date past the 2018 election, potentially turning up the heat on what is already a political hot potato.

House Bill 115, the income tax bill, passed on reconsideration Sunday by a 22-17 vote, the same caucus-lines split as in the initial vote Saturday.

But on Sunday, the House Republican minority switched its position on the bill's effective date clause — the section of the legislation that would delay it until January 2019.

Effective dates can only be changed by a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate; otherwise legislation takes effect 90 days after it's signed by the governor.

Because the effective date vote failed Sunday, the income tax, if signed by Gov. Bill Walker in the summer or fall, could take effect before the end of this year.

Most Republican minority members voted for the effective date clause on Saturday, when it was approved. But on reconsideration on Sunday, they voted as a bloc against it.

The largely-Democratic House majority said it wanted the longer effective date to give the administration of Gov. Bill Walker time to set up its tax collection machinery.

But one Republican, North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson, said she thought the delay was political.

"They can't say it's a crisis and then want to procrastinate with it just because they don't want to have it during an election year, which is why I think they pushed it off," Wilson said in an interview Monday. "If you think it's a great idea, go in front of your constituents and sell it on an election year."

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, speaks on the House floor. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

The GOP bloc vote on the effective date will probably be meaningless anyway because the tax legislation is almost certain to be rejected by the Republican-led Senate majority.

In a prepared statement after Saturday's vote, Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said it was "absurd" to propose "reaching into the pockets of working Alaskans."

Nonetheless, he said, the legislation would receive a "fair hearing."

Yet as the Legislature goes into overtime, no Senate hearings have been scheduled on the bill this week.

Anchorage Republican Sen. Mia Costello, the chair of the Senate Labor Committee where the proposal now sits, explained the inaction by citing legislative rules requiring hearings to be scheduled a week in advance — though senators sometimes waive those rules, or schedule hearings contingent on a bill's passage in the House or through another Senate committee.

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, is chair of the Senate Labor Committee. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Costello said it was "too early to say" whether the income tax would receive any hearings in her committee.

"If we do it, we'll announce it Thursday at four," she said, referring to the deadline for giving notice of next week's hearings to the Senate clerk.

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