Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: Berta's Briefings: Bye, Bye Session that wouldn't Die!!!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Berta's Briefings: Bye, Bye Session that wouldn't Die!!!

Representative Berta Gardner
Serving Geneva Woods, College Village , Green Acres, Tudor, Taku and Campbell Park

The End of the Endless Special Session

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

In the past four years I’ve participated in nine special sessions, each important in its own way. This session in particular offered an opportunity for immediate assistance to every Alaskan. The debate has been intense and far-reaching, the sums of money immense, and the result was anti-climatic for many of us.

The debate on the House floor opened with a prayer by Representative John Coghill (R-North Pole). He said “We are always mindful of the privilege of serving our people while remembering our duty – as one generation to another.” I took it very much to heart as I considered the discussion and the vote.

I believe the Governor’s proposal of a $1,200 payout per person is immensely popular across the state but I also believe it is very poor public policy.

Representative Gardner, Nelson and Kerttula during a caucus just before the House of Representatives concurred with the Senate changes to the Energy Relief bill.

-- Cash payouts without regard to need encourage an unhealthy reliance on government.

-- The payouts are taxable under federal law so we lose about a third of the benefit right off the top.

-- Payouts create an expectation of future government payouts.

-- Payouts are unsustainable.

-- Payouts are probably the least effective way for the state to provide energy relief.

On Wednesday night, after six amendments had been turned down on party line votes, when the cash payout was the only substantive offer on the table, I voted no. The bill passed with a vote of 30/7.

Although high oil prices, coupled with changes to the state’s oil tax structure, leave us in an enviably flush position, we can already see the reality that having more money to spend means there is more to fight over. Instead of short term cash payouts, we should have focused on long term solutions such as encouraging conservation, developing renewable energies, assisting the most fragile and vulnerable Alaskans to heat their homes in winter and planning for the future needs of this state. The payout does the opposite of that. I believe we failed in our higher duty of creating good policy, planning ahead and of being good stewards of the state’s assets.

Representative Gardner with staff, Noah Hanson, shows
the “Endless Session” t-shirts that were handed out
the afternoon of the last day of the Special Session.

As a legislator for Midtown Anchorage, I work hard to understand what my constituents want and then to translate that into good policy I can support. The people who have contacted me about energy issues have been split. However, I know that outside of Anchorage , where energy costs are steeper and people have fewer employment options, energy prices have had a profound impact on people’s lives.

Yesterday, when the House on reconsideration included improvements to PCE (Power Cost Equalization), I found my way to a yes vote. In the end, I have to agree with those who say that as winter approaches we cannot sit by doing nothing for those who are genuinely in need, even if it means we give state resources to those who are not in need. During next session, should I be re-elected, I will work diligently with my colleague to create good public policy that helps Alaskans who are in need.

I’m Berta and I’m still listening.

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