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PUBLISHED: 3:53 PM on Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Session no time for business as usual
The other day a colleague was talking about the Alaska Legislative session that begins this week.

"You know, it always gets busiest in early May," she observed.

"Not this year," another friend pointed out.

"Why not?"

"Because the session ends in April!"

She's probably like a lot of us who forget that this will be the first year the Legislature tries to do the State's business in 90 instead of 120 days. This will not be a Legislature for business as usual, and having 30 days less to get the work done is not the only place this will be apparent.

Ethics (or discussion on the lack thereof) and oil taxes dominated much of last year's session

But the Legislature got the heavy lifting done on a new oil tax in November, and we should be moving beyond the cloud of ethics violations, so our representatives should be able to move on to other pressing issues.

And there are plenty to choose from.

• Moving forward with a natural gas pipeline may have more long-term impact on the state's economy than any other single project.

• Developing a state budget will demand balancing new oil tax revenue with too many needs.

• Health care will remain a priority for the foreseeable future as our population continues to age and costs continue to increase at an exponential rate.

• Energy costs for citizens who sometimes have to choose between eating and heating.

• Education is the future of our state's work force, not just in traditional disciplines, but in careers that the state will need in the coming decades.

• Attracting and retaining good employees is the single biggest challenge every manager, both in private enterprise and government, faces here today.

• Transportation is a long-term and expensive issue. We will need a combination of ferries, air and roads for most of our lifetimes if not those of our children, but key decisions on where the state's focuses its resources need to be made now.

• Balance resource development with adequate environmental stewardship is going to remain in the forefront as long as there's an ounce of gold underground in Alaska.

No small questions, certainly to try to answer in 90 days.

And maybe the biggest "not business as usual" challenge will be for the two houses to work together to get things done. They did it in November. They can do it this spring.

If not, we'll see a lot of them in special sessions this summer!

I sometimes tell friends Down South that we don't have major league sports in Alaska-we have the Legislature. And the session can be more interesting than the NBA (any time) or the NFL (since Dallas is done for the year).

We've created a program of sorts for you to take part in the Legislature this print.

Where you find the Capital City Weekly this week, you will also find the Guide to the Alaska Legislature '08 that we produce in partnership with our sister newspaper the Juneau Empire. You'll notice it's quite a bit nicer book this year, in a magazine format that we hope will encourage you to keep and use it often.

You can also get updates 24/7 throughout the session at www.AlaskaLegislature.com, which includes everything you need to follow the session:

• breaking news;

• updates on key legislation;

• our Bill Tracker that will tell you the status of specific bills;

• links to all key state websites and date;

• contact information for all your elected officials, so you can also tell your officials what you think; and

• links to KTOO's "Gavel to Gavel" streaming video online of sessions in progress.

Tune in early and often. After all, it is our state sport!

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire.Email him at lee.leschper@juneauempire.com


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