At Day 50 in Juneau, bad blood is surfacing

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - At Day 50 of the legislative session, it’s starting to get personal for some lawmakers arguing over the budget and the state’s fiscal situation.

“I think it’s wrong that every time we come up with an idea, Sen. Pete Kelly – President Pete – says, 'It’s just going to go in the trash can,' or 'we’re going to mockingly laugh at that’ — mockingly laugh at solutions,” said House majority leader, Chris Tuck, at a news conference Tuesday.

Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, and Rep. Paul Seaton, a Homer Republican, challenged the Senate Republican leadership to be more responsive to House bills and ideas.

Kelly, a Republican from Fairbanks, has said that the House majority want to institute a broad-based tax, and that the Senate will stop them. He declined a request for an interview Tuesday, saying he was too busy. Instead, his lieutenant, Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, responded.

“These are emotional issues,” acknowledged Micciche, the former mayor of Soldotna, who has been advising Kelly and others about how to respond to challenges. “We are not mocking the House.”

In fact, Micciche said that politeness is built into the Legislature – decorum is the main reason for rules that bar mention of member names or of the “House” or “Senate” on the floor of each chamber.

For instance, it’s “the Senator from District O” rather than Sen. Micciche, or “the other body.”

“The House seems to spend a lot of time talking about the Senate, and if the most important thing to do is to get out of here in 90 days – with a funded, passed budget – we need to be talking to each other and not about each other," Micciche said. "Work out the differences and get our work done for Alaskans."

At the House news conference Tuesday, Seaton said the Senate hasn’t properly address his early budget bill on education, which passed the House on Feb. 7, and should support something like the House’s fiscal plan that doesn’t solely relying on earnings from the Permanent Fund.

Seaton rejected the notion that billions of dollars could still be squeezed out of the operating budget as might have been the case when the state was flush with oil money

“It’s not there now,” Seaton said. “Tremendous amounts of money were advanced for things that shouldn’t have been advanced.”

Tuck added, “It’s easy to say, ‘No no no,’ but it’s also difficult – very difficult – to find the cuts. They’re throwing responsibility on us, on everything, without taking any for themselves.”

“This is the first time in Alaska’s history where we’re actually going to be using the [Permanent Fund] earnings reserve to pay for government. We have no other choice,” Tuck said. “We tried to avoid that last year by passing a comprehensive plan over to the Senate.”

Tuck said the only big spending cut available is by eliminating the Permanent Fund dividend. But he also added, "And I don’t feel comfortable making those kinds of decisions, without hearing from the people.”

Micciche said the Senate believes the economy has improved enough that only a small percentage of the Permanent Fund’s earning reserve is needed for the budget.

Additionally, Micciche said he hoped discourse between the two branches of the Legislature would remain civil.

“This is Day 50 – things start heating up," he said. "People can take things personally, people can start becoming personal in the way they address the other body or individuals. My warning is always to move away from that. Control the way that you address others.”

Editor's Note: this story was revised to account for an inaccurate quotation of a Senate leader in another story. It was also revised to say that House Democrats, not Republicans, want to institute an income tax.

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