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Senators say Governor can call special session on Interior energy relief

Fairbanks, AK - The Governor is supposed to announce the amount of this year’s PFD on Tuesday .  The annual check could have included energy relief for Alaskans, but the idea died before it ever made it to Parnell’s desk last spring.  Two Interior democrats say the Governor could still call a special session later this fall to address the region’s energy crisis.

This year’s PFD is estimated at roughly 860 dollars.  It’s the smallest in seven years and it would have been accompanied by a 250 gallon fuel voucher if Democratic Senator Joe Paskvan of Fairbanks had had his way.
“This crisis is real," he says.  "This is beyond politics.  This something where people are saying we need help now.”

Senator Paskvan and fellow democratic Senator Joe Thomas also of Fairbanks sponsored Senate Bill 203, which created the fuel voucher program last year.  It was the only energy relief legislation to pass during this year’s legislative session. 

Republican Senator John Coghill of North Pole was one of four senators to vote against it. "It’s a very complex, kind of a bureaucratic bill," argues Coghill. "It also brought up that the governor would go through a hearing process and go through a permanent program.  They were saying it was about temporary relief, when in fact it was installing a permanent entitlement program, which I fundamentally disagreed with a and if I could have been a committee that we could have talked about it, then maybe we could have hammered out some of those details.”

The bill did not pass in the house.  Democratic Senator Joe Thomas of Fairbanks says one solution for this winter is for the Governor to call a special session following the election in November. “If they have some concerns about it," say sThomas, "it doesn’t take long to rewrite things and put a plan forward and in a special session you could expect that in a week, two weeks, three weeks or whatever.  You could certainly get through the basics of it and come up with something that satisfies your idea, unless you are just opposed to the philosophy of it in general.”

Senator Coghill says he’d support a special session. “But if the voucher is the only thing on the table," says Coghill, "then I would say it’s probably not the best thing, because they are looking at an entitlement.  I’d much rather put money into energy production whether it’s natural gas, doing something with royalty oil.  If you did that, then you’d get my attention.”

Senator Joe Thomas says a natural gas trucking project is best option to get cheaper energy to Fairbanks in the near term.  He says that plan is in the works.  Meanwhile, both Thomas and Senator Paskvan plan to bring the voucher program back to the legislature during next year’s session should they be reelected this fall.