Legislature adjourns after five extra days

JUNEAU -- Weary legislators finally closed out a five-day special session May 22 after failing to find compromise on a bill extending the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

The House adjourned the second special session of the 22nd Legislature just after 5 p.m., with the Senate following within an hour. That followed two consecutive days in which private negotiations continued until past midnight, with no resolution.

It was an anticlimactic conclusion, with most of the major work of the session, including the biggest school construction package in two decades, completed over the weekend.

Legislators will be back in a month, though, to deal with the issue they left hanging.

Several representatives made it clear that they’d like to reach out and touch Sen. Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, who almost single-handedly dragged the session out at least an additional day.

By blocking the RCA bill, Taylor has added fuel to the "phone wars" waged periodically at the Capitol between Alaska Communications Systems and General Communication Inc.

"Nobody wants to talk to him," House Majority Leader Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican, told reporters.

"One or two people are making us all look bad," said House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican.

Taylor, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has agreed to only a three-month extension of the RCA’s life, which would "sunset" the agency on Sept. 30, 2003. As it stands, a one-year "wind down" of the agency would begin in six weeks, with the possibility that staffers would start looking for work and diminish the ability of the RCA to respond to complaints.

Taylor has received campaign financing through ACS executives and lobbyists, while other legislators and Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles have been supported by GCI.

The House, with just one dissent, approved a four-year extension for RCA, only to see Taylor try to bottle the legislation up in his committee and cast aspersions on the business practices of GCI.

GCI, thanks to rulings by the commission, has broken into local phone markets previously monopolized by ACS, including Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks. ACS contends that it’s not being fairly compensated for use of its existing infrastructure. GCI officials say they’re worried that with RCA in a wind down, there will be no one "to call balls and strikes" on how interconnections are proceeding.

Knowles has called a special session for June 24 to take up the RCA issue.

05/26/2002 - 8:00pm