Special session set for return to Juneau

The Alaska Legislature is coming back to Juneau.

Gov. Bill Walker issued an official proclamation Thursday calling the Legislature into special session starting 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 24.

Unlike the budgetary special session called earlier this year, this session will take place in Juneau.

On the Legislature’s agenda will be two items dealing with the Alaska LNG project, which intends to build a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to a refinery in Nikiski.

The first item is the buyout of TransCanada’s 25 percent interest in the gas pipeline. The second is a natural gas reserves tax intended to penalize gas producers if they fail to commit their gas to the pipeline project.

“Think of this tax as an Alaskan insurance policy for Alaska’s future,” Walker said in a video-recorded announcement. “If everything goes well, everybody puts gas into the project, then it’ll never be used, it’ll never be needed.”

As envisioned, the tax would be applied to gas left in the ground. If companies like ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and BP — the state’s three producing partners in AKLNG — pledge that gas to the pipeline project, it wouldn’t be taxed.

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, called the gas reserves tax an “interesting concept.”

“I had not thought too much about it,” he said Thursday evening, “but it’s an interesting concept and I’m interested in taking a little closer look at it.”

He said that he’s interested to know whether “it’s something that will truly motivate production in a faster fashion.”

The TransCanada buyout, estimated to cost $80 million up front, would earn the state an average of $400 million more per year when the pipeline begins operating, according to state estimates.

TransCanada had been brought onto the AKLNG project (along with the three Big Oil partners) to spread out the cost of the project. In exchange for providing the state’s capital investment and its expertise in large projects, TransCanada is scheduled to receive a percentage of pipeline revenue.

In the special session announcement, Walker said he expects the buyout of TransCanada to be paid for with money from the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Accessing that reserve would require a three-quarters vote of the Alaska House and a three-quarters vote of the Alaska Senate. In an interview earlier this week, Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, expressed some concerns about using the CBR.

In an emailed statement, Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said Juneau is ready to play its constitutional role when the third special session of the 29th Alaska Legislature begins at the end of October.

“By the time legislators arrive, the last cruise ship will have pulled out, so there are no more excuses,” Egan said in the statement. “Juneau is Alaska’s capital city, and I thank the governor for realizing how important that is. The welcome mat is out, the mics are hot, and Juneau is open for the public’s business.”

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