The first session of the 28th Legislature was consumed with a bruising battle over SB 21-Governor Sean Parnell's bid to reduce oil production taxes. The measure, which ultimately passed largely along party lines, eliminated the progressivity factor of the previous tax regime, through which taxes increased as oil prices rose. Supporters of the measure argued that the reduced taxes would spur more exploration and production activity on Alaska's North Slope, which would ultimately increase revenues to the state. Those in opposition contended that the new tax system represented a give-away to major oil companies with no guarantee of increased production.
Although SB 21 was enacted, opponents immediately set about collecting signatures to place a referendum on the legislation before the voters. The referendum failed and the 28th Legislature closed knowing that substantial fiscal challenges lay ahead as oil production dropped and the new tax regime went forward.
Other legislative focal points included the following:
Fairbanks Natural Gas Trucking
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority was authorized to enable the establishment of a liquefied natural gas trucking operation to supply the Fairbanks North-Star Borough, which suffers from very high energy prices. The proposal garnered a rare unanimous vote in both chambers.
Alaska Gas Pipeline and LNG Facility
Lawmakers authorized the State to move forward to the early engineering and design phase of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project (a consortium of the 3 major North Slope producers, pipeline builder TransCanada, and the State). The legislation also calls for consideration of partial state-ownership of the project, which is anticipated to bring gas to Alaskans and to Asian-Pacific markets.
Unfunded Pension Liability
Lawmakers transferred $3 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund to the Public Employees' Retirement System ($1 billion) and the Teachers' Retirement System ($2 billion) to pare down the future pension liability payments.
Criminal Justice Reform
Lawmakers addressed the long-term costs of incarcerating nonviolent, low-level offenders, most of whom struggle with substance abuse and mental health issues.
Beyond the Legislature
South African anti-Apartheid activist, President, and national hero, Nelson Mandela dies at age 95.
Super Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippines, killing or displacing tens of thousands.
Winter Olympics are held in Sochi, Russia, costing a reported $50 billion against a backdrop of corruption accusations and international tension.
Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19 billion