- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Gov. Bill Walker wasted no time Thursday in signing legislation authorizing the state to buy out one of its partners and take over an increased stake in a proposed major gas project.

The bill received final approval in the Legislature on Wednesday, when the House passed it 39-0. It passed the Senate 16-3 on Tuesday. Walker said he thought the vote was reflective of a united desire to have a gas line.

“I think since I’ve been governor, this is the fastest we’ve ever gotten a bill signed and done,” Walker said, as a co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Anna MacKinnon, and House Finance Committee co-chairs Reps. Steve Thompson and Mark Neuman looked on.

“We couldn’t get this one done fast enough, so I just can’t thank you enough for all your work,” he said.

The administration has targeted completion of the buyout of TransCanada Corp.’s interest in the project by Dec. 1. On Dec. 4, the project partners are scheduled to vote on a work plan and budget for 2016.

TransCanada’s interest is expected to be taken over by the state-sanctioned Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, which already holds the state’s interest in liquefaction facilities. The other project partners are BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp.

Walker recommended the buyout and termination of an arrangement that predated his term under which TransCanada would hold the state’s interest in the pipeline and gas treatment plant. Doing so would increase the state’s voting rights and allow the state to have a more direct say in the decision-making process of the project, the administration argued.

In that arrangement with TransCanada, the state was obligated to pay the company for costs it put into the project on the state’s behalf, plus about 7 percent interest, regardless of whether the project succeeds or fails, a consultant for the Walker administration has said. In parting ways now, the state is expected to owe TransCanada about $68 million for costs so far.

The bill passed by lawmakers approves about $157 million in funding, including the buyout and about $89 million for state costs at this early stage of the project. The special session that Walker called to consider the buyout officially ended Thursday, when the Senate gaveled out. The House adjourned Wednesday.

There is no guarantee the liquefied natural gas project being pursued will get built. But the project is seen by many as key to Alaska’s fiscal future as oil production declines.

“There’s no one involved in these negotiations more motivated than Alaska, because we need this,” Walker said.

The state currently is facing multibillion-dollar deficits amid low oil prices.

Walker said the administration continues work on its budget proposal, which is due by Dec. 15. He said they’d like to get it out as soon as possible.

Walker indicated there could be some type of tax proposed to help generate revenue, but he said it’s in the preliminary stages and that he couldn’t be more specific.

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