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Alaska lawmakers prepare for first legislative session of 2014

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Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 12:00 am

JUNEAU — Even though lawmakers checked big projects off their to-do list last year — natural gas trucking for Fairbanks, oil taxes and the in-state pipeline legislation — there’s still plenty to do.

High energy prices, education, the state of the budget and the much-anticipated natural gas pipeline were on the minds of Interior delegation members Monday as they prepared to gavel in today.

“Trucking for the Interior, transmission for the railbelt and the pipeline,” said Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole. “The governor looks like he might have came up with a way for (the gas pipeline) to work, we’ll see if we can agree with it. That’s going to take a huge amount of work.”

Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, also agreed that Interior lawmakers can’t rest easy even with last session’s passage of Senate Bill 23, which set the ball rolling on the project to truck North Slope liquified natural gas to Fairbanks.

“We need to hear what we need to do next to be productive and move it forward,” he said. “We’ll need to build out the infrastructure and pay attention to the price to convert. It has to be cost-effective.”

In addition to lowering the cost for energy in Fairbanks and North Pole, Rep. Doug Isaacson, R-North Pole, said he wants the state to think seriously about how to lower costs in rural Alaska.

“I want to look at further than just the railbelt,” he said. “If we solve some of the rural energy problems, if we unconstrain the railbelt, we lower our costs.”

And it’s costs that are also front and center in lawmakers’ minds. With faltering oil production the state is looking at nearly $2 billion less oil revenue than last year, and it’s already brought big cuts to the budget proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell.

“The budget squeeze, we’ve got to have more oil in the pipeline to have more income, but until that happens, we’re going to have to be very frugal,” Coghill said. “Whether or not people want a debate about Senate Bill 21 (the oil tax bill passed last session), the shortfall happened under ACES (the former oil tax regime). So it is what it is, we just have to deal with it.”

But Guttenberg wasn’t ready to give his Republican colleagues a pass on the state’s budget and Senate Bill 21.

“It’s going to be the backdrop for everything,” he said. “They’ll have to take credit for Senate Bill 21 and for the budget. They’re going to have to take credit for the hundreds of teachers they’ll cut.”

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics. 

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