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Pay raises, Begich speech things to watch

- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - In years past, work in the Legislature during the first week of March would slow substantially, if not grind to a near halt, to allow lawmakers to travel to The Energy Council and other meetings in Washington, D.C. Some would take time to return home to meet with constituents.

House and Senate leaders said that won't happen this year. With major issues still pending, the majority offices said committee meetings will continue and floor sessions will be held, with fewer members expected to be gone than last year.

The House Finance Committee plans to hold public testimony on the operating budget, while the Senate Finance Committee plans to hear from the public on a bill aimed at advancing a liquefied natural gas project.

Here are three more things to watch for this week:

-SALARY INCREASES: The House Finance Committee is scheduled to take up a bill that would reject pay raises for the governor, lieutenant governor and department heads, mainly referred to as commissioners.

The State Officers Compensation Commission proposed raising the governor's salary from $145,000 a year to $150,873 and the lieutenant governor's salary from $115,000 to $119,658. It proposed giving each another 2.5 percent increase beginning July 1, 2015. The commission also recommended raising the salaries of the main department heads from $136,350 to $146,143, with an increase of 2.5 percent beginning July 1, 2015.

The Senate last month voted to reject the increases, given the state's current tight budget situation. Gov. Sean Parnell had previously said he would decline a pay raise for himself.

The director of the state Division of Personnel and Labor Relations has said the increases will take effect July 1, unless a bill disapproving the recommendations is enacted within 60 days after the recommendations are submitted. The final report was dated Jan. 27.

The bill is sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee.

-FILM CREDIT REPEAL: Staying in the House Finance Committee, the panel is scheduled on Wednesday to hear HB112, which proposes to repeal the state's film-production tax credit. Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, in his sponsor statement, said the bill would leave the film production program office in place.

The tax-credit program was created in 2008 and reauthorized during the 2012 session. The reauthorization allowed for an additional $200 million in credits to be issued through June 30, 2023, according to an Alaska Film Office report.

Supporters of the program have seen it as a way to help bolster not only the film industry in Alaska but also to create opportunities for businesses that provide support services. Critics have questioned the fiscal impact of the program.

-BEGICH ADDRESS: Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is scheduled to address a joint session of the Legislature on Monday. Alaska's U.S. senators annually address state lawmakers and often use the speech to update legislators on their work, happenings in Washington and any concerns they might have. Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in her address Feb. 19, slammed the Interior Department for its rejection of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge that could aid patients in a small Alaska village. King Cove residents have sought road access to an airport at Cold Bay for medical flights.

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Online:

http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/

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