JUNEAU, Alaska -- The 27th Alaska Legislature kicked off Tuesday and settled down to the usual business amid a moderate three-day snowstorm followed by freezing rain that had lawmakers slip-sliding up and down the hills that surround the state Capitol building.
But the streets weren't the only slippery slopes. Big issues like oil taxes and the proposed natural gas pipeline -- perennial issues -- seemed poised to slide off the table as legislators looked toward the complexities involved in resolving problems in a short session.
Reporters roving the marble hallways focused on what is supposed to be the biggest issue of the session -- whether to overhaul the state's oil tax structure -- and quickly figured out that Senate leadership is more inclined to wait for the results of studies on the tax system. The first piece might be done as soon as February, said Rep. Mike Hawker during a meeting of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee which he chairs. But Senate Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Bert Stedman said the final report isn't expected until June.
Although House leaders and Gov. Sean Parnell say a revamping of the tax structure known as ACES -- Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share -- is doable in the 90 days the Legislature will meet, senators appear more likely to wait for the results of the not-inexpensive consultants' work.
Pipedream lives on, for now
Likewise, the much-touted Alaska natural gas pipeline project -- the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA), which created a state-subsidized project -- is not coming together as fast as had been projected. TransCanada Corp., a Calgary-based pipeline builder, is spearheading the effort, with a commitment from the state of up to $500 million in subsidies. But TransCanada officials say they don't think they will have agreements with potential gas shippers worked out as quickly as first thought, adding that there are "major issues" to be resolved. That's set the political tongues wagging that AGIA might be a goner and it might be time to move on to an in-state gas line.