Sitka Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins is hoping something beneficial comes out of the special legislative session convened by the governor on Monday (10-4-21) — but his hopes are not especially high.
Note: KCAW exchanged phone calls with Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman on Monday, but was unable to connect while the senate was in session.
I caught up with Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins as the House went into recess Monday afternoon, shortly before the group was to vote on a joint resolution that would allow the legislature to move into a remote session.
Late last week Speaker of the House Louise Stutes asked the governor to cancel the session, as the state faces its worst outbreak of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, but he refused.
Nevertheless, Kreiss-Tomkins is not expecting much progress from 60 people who would rather not be in Juneau right now.
“Overall, my expectations are, I would say medium low,” said Kreiss-Tomkins, “But I’m, I’m very pro solution and very pro compromise.”
Kreiss-Tomkins’ enthusiasm for making something happen even when the odds are against it landed him a role on the 8-member bipartisan budget working group last summer, which focused on solving some of the state’s most intractable budget problems. The governor, meanwhile, has been trying to convince the legislature to adopt a constitutional amendment that would split the revenues of the Permanent Fund 50-50 between state government and dividend payments to Alaskans.
There hasn’t been much support for the governor’s idea among legislators, but Kreiss-Tomkins notes that at least everyone’s facing the same direction.
“I’ve been pushing for a constitutional amendment for four to six years now,” said Kreiss-Tomkins, “It’s just the constitutional amendment that we’re respectively looking for are somewhat, although not totally different, and I think there is a middle ground. In fact, there’s a very specific middle ground to be struck.”
That middle ground is a functional revenue plan for the state, and that means more taxation — most likely in Alaska’s oil field. Otherwise, it’s back to the deadlock that’s gripped state government for several years now.
“I spoke with the governor a week and a half ago about this, and basically told him, Look, if we want to increase the chances of something happening here, a lot of people on my side of the aisle don’t believe you’re serious about revenues,” he said. “And without revenues, there will be no deal period dead, we’re just wasting everybody’s time.”
Kreiss-Tomkins says that he was “heartened” that the governor appeared to take the advice, and responded with an oil tax increase which he introduced Monday afternoon. Kreiss-Tomkins had yet to read it, but he said that small movements in Alaska’s oil taxes had the potential to shift hundreds of millions of dollars.
And as to whether the legislature is able to break out of Juneau and do this work remotely? Kreiss-Tomkins has his fingers crossed. He said the four special sessions had left him and other legislators feeling depleted and frustrated, and he hoped working from home would allow himself and his colleagues to approach the state’s problems with a more “constructive energy.”