24 July 2012
The Alaska legislature met for its 27th session for roughly 3 months this year, convening on January 17, 2012 and adjourning on May 31, 2012. The Alaskan legislature also assembled for a 15-day special session, from April 15 to April 30, to discuss reducing the oil tax, a natural gas project, and human trafficking. The House of Representatives consists of 40 members, with a 24 of which are Republicans and 16 are Democrats. Alaska's Senate, which has 20 Senators, is bipartisan, with 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans holding office.
The Governor of Alaska, Sean Parnell, is a Republican who has held office since 2009. Governor Parnell's priorities for this legislative session included resource development and energy, public safety, education, transportation and infrastructure, and military support. In particular, Governor Parnell focused on increasing state oil production, changing the oil tax structure, fighting the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault cases, and ensuring the continuity of performance scholarships. However, Governor Parnell has been unable to persuade the legislature to pass many of the items on his agenda, especially regarding changes to oil production and oil taxes.
The main topics the Alaskan legislature focused on this session included education, affordable energy, military and veterans affairs, oil taxes, health care, and workforce development. Following trends across the states, Alaska passed bills that banned texting while driving, changed the retirement system, allowed public employees to choose between a retirement account, like a 401(k), or earning a traditional pension, and provided tax credits to businesses who hire Alaska veterans. Legislation concerning a natural gas pipeline, oil production and the oil tax structure garnered the most debate amongst both parties, the legislature, and the Governor, with many outside groups contributing to the numerous discussions.
HB 9 specifies the powers of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, allowing the company to develop natural gas pipelines, exercise eminent domain, accrue debt, and issue bonds, among other powers. Critics note that the bill gives the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation a great deal of authority with minimal oversight. They argue that instead of financing numerous smaller pipelines, the legislature should approve a major oil pipeline, which would provide cheaper gas to Alaskans. Les Gara, a Democrat in the House of Represenatives, stated in a newsletter, "That's money we can save for the future if we give the better natural gas options we have a chance and not kill them by moving ahead with this option -- which is a car that drives like a 1980 Yugo at the cost of a 2012 Lear Jet." Though oil producers have been talking about the possibility of developing a major oil pipeline that would eliminate the need for the small pipelines proposed by the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, nothing has been finalized yet.
The sponsor of the bill, Republican House Speaker, Mike Chenault, noted that he wished the major oil companies would move ahead with the plans for a major oil pipeline, stating, "I wish they would come forward and say, 'We're not going to look at the line. We're going to build the line. Get out of the way.' That wouldn't hurt my feelings a bit. That's going to bring jobs and a 100-year future to Alaska versus what we currently have, which is nothing." The bill would create a 24-inch wide pipeline and establish the framework for the 48-inch wide pipeline proposed by TransCananda, a project developed under the Palin administration. HB 9 passed in the House with a vote of 27-12 but failed to make it out of a Senate committee.
Avantika Krishna, a second-year at Trinity University majoring in Human Communication and Business Administration, is a legislative research intern with Project Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Project Vote Smart, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART.