- Associated Press - Monday, October 16, 2017

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Members of the Alaska Senate do not plan to spend all their time in Juneau when the fourth special session this year convenes in the capital city next week.

Senate President Pete Kelly told The Associated Press that after starting the session Oct. 23 in Juneau, the Senate plans to hold hearings in Anchorage on budget and tax issues. The Senate will return to Juneau when there’s something to act on, he said.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said the House plans to conduct its work in Juneau. Edgmon said the Capitol has the infrastructure in place to host the session and that meeting in Juneau will allow for lawmakers’ work to be broadcast on a statewide public affairs channel.

Gov. Bill Walker called the special session for Juneau with two items on the agenda: taxes and crime legislation. The Senate passed its version of the crime bill earlier this year.

Walker is likely to face resistance from the Republican-led Senate on his tax bill. The proposal calls for a 1.5 percent tax on wages and self-employment income earned in Alaska. The tax would be capped at the higher amount of $2,200 or double the amount of the previous year’s Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, the annual checks Alaska residents receive from the state’s oil-wealth fund.

Kelly said the idea of taking more money out of the private sector of the economy through a tax is concerning and something he personally does not support. It’s possible the Senate won’t act on a tax, “but I’m not going to say that 100 percent,” he said.

The Fairbanks Republican said the Senate majority will look at the state’s fiscal situation as part of its evaluation.

The state faces an ongoing budget deficit amid persistently low oil prices. Walker sees new revenues as a critical piece of an overall fiscal package.

There has been general consensus among Walker and lawmakers that earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund will be needed to help pay for government costs. But an agreement on how to move forward hasn’t been finalized. That issue is outside the scope of the current special session agenda.

Edgmon, a Democrat from Dillingham, sees Walker’s tax proposal as a starting point for discussions.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Gary Stevens of Kodiak will replace Sen. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican, on the Senate Finance Committee, Kelly said.

Hughes left the caucus in breaking with the Senate majority on a budget vote earlier this year. Being in the majority confers certain benefits, including committee assignments.

Kelly said he does not anticipate that Anchorage-area senators will claim a daily legislative allowance, known as per diem, while the Senate meets in Anchorage. “I don’t think anybody has it in mind that they would be collecting per diem while they’re in their hometown,” he said.

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