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Dermot Cole

JUNEAU — The Legislature moved toward final action late Saturday on a gas pipeline bill aimed at setting the stage for future negotiations with major oil companies and an agreement for the state to invest billions in the project.

In the state House, Democrats put forward a handful of amendments Saturday afternoon and evening, all of which failed by a two-to-one margin. The final vote is expected Sunday.

Amendments dealt with various aspects of the deal reached by the Parnell administration with TransCanada and the three major oil companies, calling for revisions of the ground rules for the next stage of negotiations...

Dermot Cole

JUNEAU -- A couple of weeks ago, Senate President Charlie Huggins shared his philosophy with reporters about the chance of spending Easter Sunday somewhere other than within the stately confines of the Capitol.

“If you went to see ‘Noah,’ you would understand why I advocate for us getting out of here before Easter,” Huggins told reporters. “We need to revisit some of our fundamentals, if you will.”

It turned out that the political mix of the 90-day session and the varied interest of 60 legislators took precedence over matters of the spirit, cinematic or otherwise...

Dermot Cole

JUNEAU -- The Legislature and the Parnell administration say they won’t play favorites in bestowing subsidies on two in-state Alaska refining companies. The problem with this thinking is that the two companies in line for financial aid -- Petro Star and Tesoro -- are hardly in the same circumstances.

A bill up for a final legislative action this weekend would provide tax credits or cash payments of up to $10 million a year in exchange for an investment of $25 million a year at each refinery.

The subsidy is structured on a per-refinery basis, not a per-company basis, so Petro Star could quality for up to $20 million if it spent $50 million on its two facilities in a year...

Dermot Cole

JUNEAU -- The Alaska film tax credit program could be on the cutting room floor in 2016 under a bill approved by the state House Thursday.

It came as part of a comprehensive measure that provides for a staggered review of state tax credits and other indirect spending over the next six years. Fairbanks Rep. Steve Thompson said the bill would not get rid of the film subsidy program or any other tax credits immediately, but it would allow lawmakers time to decide if they want to keep programs going.

The bill would require reports every two years on how tax credits are working and whether they should be continued. Some programs, including the film tax credit, have an expiration date written into state law. Many do not...

Dermot Cole

JUNEAU -- A five-year plan to subsidize in-state refineries by up to $10 million a year won easy approval Thursday from the state House.

But the 35-5 vote followed prolonged debate over whether the 40 percent tax credits/grants should be scrapped in favor of low-interest loans, and why Tesoro, which didn't seek a subsidy, should get one at all.

The measure now heads to the Senate, with a Senate Finance Committee hearing set for Friday as the Legislature nears the final days of its 2014 session, with most major issues unresolved...

Dermot Cole

JUNEAU -- As the Legislature moves toward approval of a complex gas pipeline bill, no one can answer two big questions: Will a pipeline be built? And if so, how much cash will the state collect?

They can't be answered because it is impossible to say right now how much natural gas will sell for in Asia over the long run or how much a pipeline across Alaska would cost. Much more work on engineering, financing and marketing remains before we'll know if a pipeline will become a reality.

Consultants appearing before the Legislature have said as much, but the urge to attach a specific revenue prediction -- without acknowledging that it may be way off -- remains a powerful one.

It happened again on Tuesday during a presentation before the House Finance Committee...

Dermot Cole

JUNEAU -- In a six-minute hearing today, the House Rules Committee expanded Gov. Sean Parnell’s bill to subsidize in-state refineries by adding the shuttered Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski to the list of entities qualifying for state aid.

The amendment, introduced by House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Kenai, was offered at 9:25 a.m. in the committee.

The bill would offer a 40 percent tax credit or cash refund for "qualified infrastructure expenditures" by refineries. As proposed, if a refinery spends $25 million, it would qualify for a $10 million subsidy...

Dermot Cole

JUNEAU -- A bill defining “medical necessity” for women on Medicaid seeking an abortion received final legislative approval Monday.

A day after the state House approved the bill on a 23-17 vote, the Senate agreed on a 13-7 vote. The final version removed provisions for family planning services, though supporters of the bill said the state already has adequate programs in place.

Anchorage Sen. Hollis French said the bill continues a more-than-decade-long effort to put “special burdens on a woman’s right to choose.”...

Dermot Cole

JUNEAU -- The House Finance Committee advanced a five-year financial aid program for Alaska oil refineries Monday, but only after cutting proposed state subsidies from $300 million to $150 million.

Supporters of the more expansive plan warned that tax credits trimmed to $10 million per year for each refinery might not be enough to save the two Petro Star refineries in Fairbanks and Valdez.

“I just feel like this isn’t enough to get over that hump and get us to where we need to be without costing the state billions of dollars in the future,” Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson said...

Dermot Cole

JUNEAU -- The Alaska House narrowly approved a measure Sunday evening to boost the minimum wage to $9 per hour as of July 1, which -- if it now passes the Senate -- would remove an initiative set for the statewide primary ballot in August that would raise it to $8.75 as of next January.

Moments after the 21-19 vote, House Speaker Mike Chenault took to the floor to rip into Ed Flanagan, a former state labor commissioner and chairman of the group that led the drive for the ballot initiative.

“There’s trouble in our House," Chenault said.

He distributed copies to House members of a photo of Flanagan taken Wednesday during the single hearing on the minimum wage bill. The photo shows Flanagan holding a notebook, on which he had drawn a dollar sign...

Dermot Cole