The Alaska Legislature’s most junior member says this year’s 95-day legislative session shows lawmakers can take on only a few big issues in the 90 days mandated by voters.
Rep. Sam Kito III says he’s interested in returning to a 120-day session.
“I think that it’s important to — for me — to think about how we might be able to try and maybe think about going back to a 120-day session,” Kito says.
It’s a politically touchy subject. Voters narrowly mandated the shorter session through a ballot initiative in 2006. It was sold as a way to save money and attract more candidates for elected offices.
While politically fraught, it’s legally moot. The 120-day language in the state constitution trumps the 90-day voter initiative law.
The Juneau Democrat says he was proud to work on House Bill 278, a package of funding increases and wide ranging education policy changes. Disagreements over school funding were the key reason for the five extra days in session. The bill didn’t clear the legislature until day 95.
“There were still issues that I had with the bill, but when we got down to the end, it was a fairly good compromise,” Kito says. “I think there’s definitely a lot of work that needs to be done, again, next year. But I was pretty pleased with the end product.”
Kito has mixed feelings about the funding. The package includes increases above the governor’s proposal, but not enough to prevent staffing reductions in Juneau and other school districts facing budget shortfalls. And, much of the new money is not enshrined in the state’s education funding formula.
Another concern is a requirement on the Department of Administration to propose a statewide school salary schedule. Kito says such a schedule could bypass local union negotiations.
House Bill 278 also creates tax credits for donations to private nonprofit and religious schools, which Kito believes are unconstitutional.