The Senate Majority organization has, to date, been one of the poorest performing in recent memory. While supposedly a bipartisan coalition, in practice it is dominated by a core group of anti-business senators. They were an obstacle to passage of virtually every major piece of legislation important to the Alaska business community. The important priorities that the Alaska Business Report Card group and its individual member organizations communicated to legislators at the outset of the 2011 and 2012 sessions nearly all passed the House, but then died in Senate committees, typically Senate Judiciary (Hollis French, Chair) or Senate Finance (Bert Stedman and Lyman Hoffman, co-chairs).
There are several important examples of this, as follows:
1. A clean renewal of the Alaska Coastal Management Program (ACMP) passed the House in March, 2011 on a unanimous vote. However, a clean renewal of an existing program that was already working fairly well under federal guidelines was not sufficient for several anti-business Senators. They let the bill die without a floor vote in the regular session, then proceeded to insert provisions into the bill during special session that allowed for the consideration of unscientific “local knowledge,” thus adding even greater permitting uncertainty into an already difficult federal permitting process. The delays associated with the special session caused the ACMP program to begin to shutting down in May, 2011. This, combined with the “local knowledge” language, caused the special session bill to fail in the House on a tie vote. The upshot is that a group was formed to gather signatures for a ballot initiative, which is now on the August primary ballot. That language is even more onerous than the version that passed the Senate during special session in 2011.
2. On budget matters, the Senate Majority attempted to circumvent the normal balance of power between the House, Senate and Governor during the 2011 session in order to force the adoption of their version of a bloated operating and capital budget. Fortunately, House leaders called their bluff, but the 2011 regular session ended without a capital budget and a special session was required to sort it all out.
3. A key litigation reform bill which would have increased accountability for frivolous, anti-development lawsuits passed the House with strong bi-partisan support. On the Senate side, it died in Judiciary Committee without being seriously considered.
4. On the creation of an Alaska Transportation Infrastructure Fund (ATIF) to smooth out and de-politicize critical road, port and airport funding, the House passed a resolution that would have allowed the public to vote on this important idea. An ATIF has been listed as a high priority by numerous business organizations across the state. The House vote was bi-partisan. In the Senate, the supposedly bi-partisan coalition was unable to even give the House resolution a floor vote. It died in the Senate Finance Committee without being seriously considered.
5. On oil tax reform, Senators refused to even hear legislation that had passed the House in March, 2011. Claiming that they had “too little information,” Senators delayed action and spent upwards of $1,000,000 on consultants. (Ironically, many of these same Senators had expressed remarkably little need for information when they rammed through some of the worst provisions of the ACES tax hikes during a late-night Senate Finance session in 2007.) After two legislative years, Senators were unable to garner enough votes in their own coalition to pass their main tax reform bill, SB192. So, in the final day of regular session in 2012, Senate leadership grafted some very limited oil tax provisions onto a state film tax credit bill, rammed it through the Senate, and left the House only hours to consider this hastily assembled bill. Yet another special session was then called, which also ended in failure. Consequently, the single most important economic issue facing Alaska has been left unresolved.