PUBLISHED: 3:58 PM on Wednesday, May 18, 2005
The Legislature as of Monday remained far apart on two bills that Gov. Murkowski and the Senate Republicans have called top priorities -- a bill to change the pension system for public employees and teachers, putting new hires into a defined contribution plan, which does not guarantee retirement benefits; and an overhaul of the workers compensation system, including a new commission to handle appeals of denied claims by injured workers. There is also the question of a public works budget with school and road construction and maintenance. Although Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature, there are deep divisions between them. House Republicans are divided about on the labor-related bills, and they favor a smaller capital budget than the nearly $1 billion bill being developed by the Senate Finance Committee. Six days into their special session, senators were holding onto the capital budget to see if the House would vote on the labor bills, while the House conversely was holding off on those votes until they got a capital budget from the Senate. Gov. Murkowski left Juneau on Friday, the third day of the special session, to attend events in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Becky Hultberg, the governor's press secretary, says Murkowski is now working on natural gas issues essential to the proposed pipeline from the North Slope. Five state representatives were absent Monday when the House voted to approve a major land grant for the university of Alaska. None of them had been officially excused by the House.