Special Session Day 2: Lawmakers pan governor’s tax proposals

In the debate over how to close Alaska’s $3.8 billion budget hole, one potential solution hasn’t gotten much traction: finding new revenue sources.

Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, discusses the state operating budget on the floor the House of Representatives, March 11, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray, 360 North)
Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, discusses the state operating budget on the floor the House of Representatives, March 11, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray, 360 North)

That was supposed to be a major focus of the special session happening now.

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But in the first committee hearing this week, lawmakers panned Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to institute an income tax and raise rates on everything from fishing and mining to alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel.

Walker originally introduced the taxes as separate bills; those went nowhere in the regular session. This time, he rolled them into a single bill.

But lawmakers aren’t thrilled with that approach, either.

“You take an income tax that has roughly half the votes [in the House],”said Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage). “Then all of the sudden you add on a motor fuel tax and lose a couple votes, then all of the sudden you add on an alcohol tax and lose a couple votes — it’s almost like it’s a recipe to fail.”

Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, put the question to Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck.

“Did you think that ganging together seven different taxes would make it more likely or less likely that any would pass?” Saddler asked.

“Based on the success we had passing them as individual bills, it’s probably not less likely,” Hoffbeck replied, to laughter.

But lawmakers remained unmoved. “This is one heck of a moving parts bill,” said House Finance co-chair Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks. “You have way too much in it.”

Meanwhile, both houses voted unanimously to resurrect several bills from the regular session, avoiding an alternative that would have forced them to start from scratch.

House Democrats did want to start over on one bill: the overhaul of oil and gas taxes.

That proposal was met with disbelief from Republicans.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Are we really having this discussion right now? That we’re going to start back over?” asked Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage. “Imagine how I’m going to go back and talk about this to my constituents. They’re already not happy we couldn’t do our work in 90 days. They’re not happy that we couldn’t do it in 120 days….[and] we’ve decided we’re going to start over on the biggest, most complex, most controversial issues that we have?”

“We’re funning with our constituents, right?” he added.

That proposal was voted down.

At the end of Tuesday’s House Floor session, Minority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, rose to address an issue close to the hearts of lawmakers and staff who find themselves still in Juneau more than 30 days past their original end date.

“I’d like to speak on the subject of, ‘Hang in there,'” Tuck said. “I know a lot of us are sick and tired, but hang in there, and we’ll get through it.”

Lawmakers have two committee meetings scheduled for tomorrow, day three of the special session.

Rachel Waldholz covers energy and the environment for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media, KTOO in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Before coming to Anchorage, she spent two years reporting for Raven Radio in Sitka. Rachel studied documentary production at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and her short film, A Confused War won several awards. Her work has appeared on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Marketplace, among other outlets.
rwaldholz (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8432 | About Rachel

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