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Alaska Legislature

30-day Wasilla special session estimated to cost $1.3 million

This June 14, 2019, photo shows Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaking at a news conference at Wasilla Middle School in Wasilla, Alaska. Dunleavy has called lawmakers into special session in Wasilla beginning July 8, but some lawmakers have expressed concerns over security and logistics with the location more than 500 miles from the state capital of Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

JUNEAU — A 30-day special legislative session in Wasilla could cost $1.3 million, according to estimates from the Legislative Affairs Agency, which has cited logistical and security concerns with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recommended meeting venue.

Dunleavy called lawmakers into a special session July 8 in Wasilla to finalize this year's payout to residents from the state's oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. He has recommended they meet at Wasilla Middle School.

Legislative leaders have been weighing their options. Dunleavy, a Republican, represented Wasilla and surrounding areas for five years in the state Senate.

Legislative Affairs estimates the cost of convening and immediately adjourning a special session in Wasilla at around $240,000. It estimates a 30-day special session in Juneau that includes House and Senate Finance committee meetings in Anchorage could cost around $855,000.

Jessica Geary, the agency's executive director, said the Juneau estimate she was asked to provide, which was released Thursday by the House majority, assumes minimal floor sessions at the Capitol and committee meetings in Anchorage. She said a prior estimate for a full special session in Juneau was around $1.1 million.

The agency, in a written document outlining concerns with the school, cited issues with security, logistics and technology.

It said classrooms won't work for legislative offices, and committees would have to meet at legislative information offices in Wasilla or Anchorage, citing the lack of teleconference infrastructure at the school. Any potential travel for committee hearings away from the school is not included in the cost estimate, Geary said.

Matt Shuckerow, a Dunleavy spokesman, expressed skepticism with the cost estimates and what he characterized as excuses.

"Legislators unfortunately are going to great lengths to find reasons to not meet in the Mat-Su Valley," he said, referring to the region in which Wasilla is nestled. He said the school is "more than adequate."

Senate President Cathy Giessel said three factors are considered as lawmakers mull their options: cost, the ability to maintain reliable recordings and documentation of committee meetings and floor sessions and the separation of powers.

"The Legislature has jurisdiction over its own function and we are very aware of that and we are not willing, I guess you would say, to relinquish our standing as a separate but equal branch of government," she said.

Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, acknowledged the constitution allows for a governor to call a special session. But she called Dunleavy's proposal unprecedented.

“We are looking at the implications of the call that is presently before us and our response to it,” she said.

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