JUNEAU, Alaska — On day 8 of the Special Session in Juneau Governor Sean Parnell threw lawmakers a curve ball.
The Governor, impatient with the lack of apparent progress on oil tax-reform, redefined the rules of the session.
He issued an order for lawmakers to put oil tax reform aside. He said that until further notice, they were to deal with one issue, and one issue only: an in-state natural gas pipeline.
Nearly all of the sixty lawmakers seemed caught by surprise by the governor's move.
Some liked it, others definitely did not.
The angriest reaction seemed to come from the Senate.
Moments after the Governor changed the rules of the Special Session, Senator Joe Paskvan (D) Fairbanks issued a statement saying the governor had mischaracterized the Senate on oil tax reform. Paskvan stated that the governor was just plain wrong when he accused senators of being unwilling to compromise on oil tax reform. He said the Senate was moving forward in the direction of a new agreement.
Meanwhile, Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) was far more pointed in his reaction. Wielechowski accused the governor of changing the rules to deflect attention from his own intransigence. "The governor's (oil tax bill) would have been financial suicide for the state," Wielechowski said. "And I think the governor finally realized that -- and he just couldn't justify his bill."
But on the House side lawmakers seemed much more sanguine.
House Speaker Mike Chenault said, "Oh I think it'll put the focus on House Bill 9 -- and the importance of in-state gas -- in a sooner versus later open-season.
Democratic Represenative Chris Tuck had much the same take. "Now we can all focus on trying to get a gas line proposal... and ya know we need to have some sort of back-up plan in case the big line doesn't work out for us.
And finally Representative Berta Gardner (D) Anchorage also thought a single-issue session -- from here on in -- would be a good idea. "In terms of the gas pipeline, there's no doubt that interior Alaska , in particular is really, really hurting from energy costs, " Gardner said. "And if we can do something that is going to be sustainable,long-term solution to the pain that they're feeling then that's urgent. And we need to do that."
The ball is now in the Senate's court. Senators are likely to spend much fo the day Thursday arranging hearings on the new, sole issue of this Special Session: in-state natural gas.