The major oil companies in Alaska testified last night to the state House Resources Committee about the latest version of Governor Sean Parnell’s oil tax reform legislation. The bill passed the Senate last week. It represents a major tax break for the oil companies. The state estimates it will cost Alaska $6 billion in tax revenue over the next five years.
Dan Seckers, a tax expert with Exxon Mobil, says the company is especially happy with the provision of the bill that gets rid of the state’s windfall profits tax:
“To us, this single step represents significant improvement. And this change alone, if you did nothing else to ACES, that change alone would significantly improve Alaska’s global competitiveness,” Seckers said.
But Seckers went on to say the base tax rate under the new tax plan – 35 percent – is too high. Damian Bilboa, head of finance for BP Alaska, agreed the tax breaks under the new plan don’t go far enough.
“While it is a step forward in making Alaska more attractive to investment. Alaska’s geographic, technical and cost challenges are such that Alaska may not want to be satisfied with settling on the upper end of average on the competitive scale,” Bilboa said.
Democrats who fought the new tax plan in the Senate say it gives away billions of dollars to the oil companies, with no guarantee they will invest more in oil production in Alaska to make up for the loss.
Committee co-chair Eric Feige hopes to advance the bill sometime next week. It would then go to the House Finance Committee.
Education advocates have long promoted pre-school as a way of closing the achievement gap between rich and poor students, and this year the president named expanding early education programs as one of his top priorities in his State of the Union address. But here in Alaska, fewer kids could have access to pre-school due to budget cuts.
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It’s Girl Scout cookie time. The troops sell the cookies to raise money for all kinds of activities. APRN’s Dave Waldron found a troop in Anchorage that uses the funds for a unique and futuristic purpose.
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The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery is scheduled for a 3 p.m. opening Wednesday. It is the first opening of the season as fishermen try to catch more than 11,500 tons of the small silverfish. Herring eggs are valued on the Japenese market.
State fishery managers like to see 10 percent mature roe before calling an opening. A sample taken Wednesday was at 12.9.
The fishery area is between Bieli Rock and Makhnati Island. No word on how long the fishery will be open.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, is closing down its residential drug and alcohol treatment program. The closure was announced Tuesday and comes after massive reductions in federal funding, also known as sequestration.
The Bill Brady Healing Center has existed in its current form since 1996. About 50 patients graduate from the 40-day program every year.
“I know that April 30 is our last day,” said Dave Johnson, who has been a residential manager at the Healing Center for about four-and-a-half years.
When Johnson clocked out at 2 o’clock Monday afternoon, he was told to return at 4 for a mandatory meeting. That’s when SEARHC officials broke the news that the center would close in about a month’s time.
“When it was first told to us, I was bitter, and I was angry,” he said. “Last night I couldn’t sleep. And today, I woke up and I feel a lot better. There’s two ways to look at it. You can look at it as a total negative, but there’s another way to look at it as, another door is going to open.”
Johnson is one of about 22 people who work at the Healing Center. In a statement released Wednesday, SEARHC says some of the employees will be reassigned. Others will be furloughed — a temporary, unpaid leave, basically — and others will be let go completely.
The closure will save SEARHC about $1.5 million every year. The money will chip away at a funding cut of more than $3.5 million, imposed by sequestration — the name given to cuts that automatically kicked in on March 1, when Congress failed to agree on a federal budget.
SEARHC CEO Charles Clement says the organization has dealt with short-term funding problems before. But he calls sequestration “the new normal.”
“For all intents and purposes, it looks like the sequestration is going to be a permanent reality,” Clement said.
He says that means the organization can’t tighten the belt for six months and ride out the storm. At Bill Brady, SEARHC is still figuring out who will lose their job outright, and who will be moved to other parts of SEARHC.
Clement says the dozen or so patients currently in the program will be seen through to completion in mid-April, and then staff will have two weeks to wrap up loose ends and close the doors.
This latest round of budget cuts comes after SEARHC spent a year digging out from a $4 million deficit. Clement says the organization just got back to breaking even when sequestration hit.
And with the new $3.5 million hit, conversations continue among upper management on how to continue digging out of the hole.
“They’re a combination between these sort of financial conversations and these subjective value conversations,” he said. “We’re sort of working it through the best we can, considering that for all intents and purposes, we’re being held over a barrel that we have to make these decisions on a very short time frame.”
Back to Dave Johnson, the residential manager at Bill Brady Healing Center.
“My heart is telling me to go back to Angoon,” Johnson said.
The 32-year-old grew up in the Admiralty Island community. For nearly five years, he says he’s been part of a team that helps complete strangers heal. And as he tries to heal from the sudden end to all of that, he says it’s a good reason to be close to his family.
“I wouldn’t say I’m at peace. You’re seeing the cover. There’s a lot … I’m really in shock, mainly,” he said. “This was the best job I’ve ever had. I can honestly say that.”
As part of Women’s history month, Alaska Public Media brings you the voices of influential Alaskan women who have helped shape and define the social, cultural and political discourse in Alaska. 15 women were recently inducted into the Alaska women’s hall of fame at a ceremony in Anchorage. Former Anchorage Assembly chair and hall of fame steering committee member Jane Angvik tells us more about the late, Mary Joyce who was honored for her achievements in Business and adventure! Mary Lou Gerby accepted the award on her behalf.
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Only one amendment was passed for AO37. It states, “No municipal employee will suffer a loss of base pay or benefits as a result of changes to this chapter.”
The Anchorage Assembly passed a rewrite of municipal labor law by a vote of 6-5 at their regular meeting Tuesday night.
Early in the meeting, Assembly Member Paul Honeman introduced a resolution that could have postponed action on the controversial rewrite of Anchorage municipal labor law until October.
“I just, I can’t implore each of you on this body strongly enough to fully get behind taking the time and making sure we make the changes – I’m not opposed to making changes to 3.70, I’m not. So I would urge approval,” Honeman said.
Honeman’s resolution was shot down 6-5. When Assembly Chair Ernie Hall moved to take action on the ordinance, Honeman moved to override the chair. That motion failed 7-4, with Assembly members Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Patrick Flynn as Honeman’s only supporters. Honeman then moved to postpone the ordinance indefinitely. That motion also failed 7-4. The ordinance was announced on Feb. 8 by Mayor Dan Sullivan. It will limit union longevity and performance pay, benefits, and eliminate binding arbitration along with strikes. It will also allow some municipal jobs to be contracted out. Chairman Hall ended the public hearing on the ordinance after listening to four five-hour evenings of public testimony from 285 people. Before the vote Assembly member Patrick Flynn told his colleagues that they had failed.
“We have a larger responsibility, not just to the people we represent, although that’s the most important one, but also to the integrity of this body, this Assembly, as an institution, and we have failed badly. The decision to close public testimony has irrevocably harmed our public process,” Flynn said.
Assembly members attempted to pass some amendments. Assembly member Honeman introduced an amendment that would protect base-pay. During deliberation Mayor Dan Sullivan chimed in arguing against that.
“You don’t want to put in an ordinance that you’re never going to change a wage rate. It could change, in exchange for something else. And it could be to the employees benefit. So anyway, that’s why I think it’s very, very dangerous to put specifically in code that you’ll never change a base rate because that’s what negotiation is about,” Sullivan said.
Honeman’s amendment was the sole amendment passed. Assembly members Traini and Gray-Jackson warned that the ordinance would bring lawsuits upon the Municipality because it was poorly written. Gray-Jackson asked her colleagues to remember what they heard from citizens during public testimony on the ordinance.
“Much of the testimony was simply asking the Assembly to take a deep breath and don’t rush the ordinance just to get it done before the election. If we put this on hold, we can avoid costly litigation, work with the unions, with the public and produce a document that makes changes to the code but with consensus from all parties,” Gray-Jackson said.
The ordinance passed 6-5, with Assembly Members Honeman, Traini, Gray-Jackson, Flynn and Debbie Ossiander the no votes. Chair Hall, Cheryl Frasca, Jennifer Johnston, Adam Trombley and Bill Starr voted for the ordinance. Cheryl Frasca, Jennifer Johnston, Ernie Hall, Chris Birch, Bill Starr and Adam Trombley in favor of the ordinance. Jillanne Inglis is Vice President of the Anchorage Municipal Employees Association. She says the ordinance was too rushed.
“We’re feeling really disheartened. We’re really upset about it. The process was way too fast,” Inglis said.
Sergeant Gerard Asselin, who represents the Anchorage Police Department Employee Association said he was also disappointed.
“The Mayor said from day one, he had the votes. We tried. We did everything we could. We tried providing facts, we tried providing information, we tried providing evidence – and they, frankly, just didn’t want to hear it,” Asselin said.
Collective bargaining agreements will be negotiated under the new law as old agreements expire. The first union negotiations under the new law are set to begin in the coming weeks. The Sullivan administration has 180 days to present a managed competition program to the Assembly for approval.
A reward is being offered for information in the death of two Golden Eagles, whose bodies were recently found near a hiking trail near Chickaloon. According to Bruce Woods, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the eagles, a female and an immature male, were found on top of a pile of bait meat and surrounded by snares.
”The Eagles were not in the snares at the time they were found, they were dead, they had not been shot, and they were on top of the bait pile. “
Woods says the eagles were not in the snares when their bodies were discovered, however, and it appears that the bodies were tossed on top of the pile after they had died. He says the bodies were not decomposed, and that the birds had not been shot, although authorities are not releasing more information about the condition of the bodies at this time. Woods says he does not know if there will be a necropsy on the birds.
“There was sufficient evidence on site to indicate what caused the mortality. I do know that our agents are not really saying more information about the cause of mortality as that might be pertinent to the investigation. “
The site of the eagle deaths is Anthracite Ridge, North of the Chickaloon -Knik -Nelchina Trail near Chickaloon.
Fish and Wildlife is offering 2500 dollars for information leading to a conviction in the case. Eagles are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty could result in a 100 thousand dollar fine and/ or a year in federal prison. Woods says more than one violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Act adds up to a serious crime.
“Two violations under that act would raise the status of the crime to a felony. “
Woods says American Indians and Alaska Natives are allowed to use eagle parts and feathers in spiritual ceremonies, although the feathers and parts are kept by the national Eagle Repository near Denver and there is an application for their use. Woods says it is likely the eagles bodies will be sent to the repository.
Anyone with information concerning these eagles is asked to call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement in Anchorage at (907)271-2828.
A report released Tuesday offers stark findings on the status of Alaskan women. Women in the state earn much less than their male counterparts, have been imprisoned at a higher rate during the last decade and are committing suicide at a rate twice as high as the rest of the United States.
Senator Lesil McGuire asked the non-partisan legislative research services to prepare the report last year. She says the biggest surprise for her in the data was how little women earn compared to men in Alaska.
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The more than 30 speakers at Monday’s Save Our Schools hearing were preaching to the choir; that is, the Alaska House and Senate Democrats who called it to bolster their fight for increased public school funding.
Minority members say they’ve been getting hundreds of emails and other comments from frustrated parents, teachers, school administrators and education boards asking for the same.
They want money for pre-kindergarten programs, inflation proofing for the Base Student Allocation, and no constitutional amendment to allow public dollars to flow to religious and private schools.
Anchorage parent Matt Johnson spoke at the end, summing up two hours of testimony:
“We really need to fully fund our public schools and our pre-K early learning programs. I don’t think money’s always the bottom line, but I think it’s a proven fact that early education saves everybody money. Saves our state money, saves our society money. I strongly oppose any voucher system for our public schools, and strongly oppose any tinkering with out Alaska constitution. And finally I would say that I believe we are one of the wealthiest states in the union if not the wealthiest. What kind of a people can’t fund their public education system but can hand over billions to the oil companies.”
Johnson was alluding to the bill moving through the legislature that would reduce taxes on Alaska’s oil producers. The latest fiscal note indicates the state would lose between $4.5 billion and $5.8 billion dollars in revenue through 2019.
Only two speakers at yesterday’s hearing took the opposite stance, including
John Thomas, of the Mat-Su region. He agrees with many in the Republican-led legislature who say public schools aren’t wisely using the money they get.
“The answer is ‘throw money at it, throw money at it. The children; education is untouchable, this is our primary responsibility.’ We’ve tried it that way for decades, people. Now it’s time to tighten our belts and get with the program.”
Democrats are a small caucus in the legislature and their Republican colleagues were not at yesterday’s hearing.
And, the Democrat’s legislation to inflation-proof the Base Student Allocation (HB 95) is not moving. The BSA is the formula used to calculate the per-student cost of education. It’s remained $5,680 dollars since FY 2011. According to the Legislative Finance Division, the BSA would be worth $5,569 dollars in the upcoming fiscal year, due to inflation.
Republican chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees say proposed increases in education funding are not likely to gain traction in these last three weeks of the session.
There’s been a major shake-up at the top of Koniag Incorporated, the regional Native Corporation for the Kodiak Islands area. In a release Tuesday, it was announced that Will Anderson has agreed to step down as the president and chief executive officer, positions he has held for the past seven years.
No reason was given for the departure.
Tom Panamaroff will serve as interim president, while board chair Ron Unger will serve as interim CEO.
A new interactive map lays out the earthquake potential across Alaska. The online map uses a color coded system to identify locations that have experienced earthquakes.
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A school group from earthquake and tsunami ravaged cities in Japan visited Fairbanks over the weekend. The Japanese government sponsored cultural exchange includes 26 high school students and their teachers.
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A Seldovia family that has made a habit of taking on long journeys around some of the wildest parts of Alaska is at it again. Later this month, they’ll be taking off from their yurt on the south side of Kachemak bay for an 800-mile walk along the entire coast of Cook Inlet.
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The newest piece of art for the new Ketchikan Public Library building is an installation called “A Trip to the Library.” Artists Evon Zerbertz and Rich Stage were at the library after hours last weekend, working out the logistics of hanging the complex piece.
As Zerbetz watches, getting a crick in her neck from looking up, Stage noisily elevates the lift 25 feet into the air, to bolt the sculpture, swathed in bubble wrap, into place.
Art isn’t usually that loud. Neither are libraries, for that matter. But once it’s in place, the newly installed artwork will be quiet, albeit full of movement, both real and implied.
The name of the piece, “A Trip to the Library,” is a play on words. It portrays a young man who has stumbled on his way out.
“He has found so many books in this library that he wants to read, that he has amassed this huge stack of books,” Zerbetz said. “As he leaves, they are just flying through the air.”
Zerbetz and Stage knew they wanted a young man for the main sculpture. Zerbetz says she loves the “guys read” campaign that encourages reading among boys.
The sculpture was modeled after a real person, who agreed to endure, well, here’s Zerbetz again to explain the process.
“We used Andy Pankow for the head cast,” she said. “He was incredible. He had rubber – I don’t know how many pounds – like five or six pounds of rubber and plaster on his head for two to three hours. I don’t think very many people can do that.”
Stage then sculpted the resin head cast, so it doesn’t really look like the model anymore. Stage, who was reluctant but not completely opposed to talking on the record, also created the metal-frame skeleton for the piece, which isn’t as heavy as it looks.
“It’s under a ton,” he said. “It’s all wire frame. It probably weighs 70 pounds. So he’s all hollow inside.”
The main steel rod goes from the sculpture’s foot to wrist, and those two points are bolted to either side of the library’s main glassed-in entrance area. They built a replica of that entrance in Zerbetz’s driveway, to plan the piece out and make sure they had the dimensions right.
The idea for the installation came out of a brainstorming session.
We were going through the ubiquitous fish and birds, but we already did that,” Zerbetz said. “We wanted to do something really different, and Rich is always full of puns.”
Zerbetz and Stage have collaborated before. One of those projects is an installation piece at Fawn Mountain Elementary School that involves all kinds of flying creatures bursting out of pillars in the school’s main corridor. That piece also had lots of parts, and required some interesting engineering to install.
“We like it complicated,” she said, laughing. “Actually we don’t really like it complicated, we
just specialize in complicated.”
Other art pieces already installed at the library include metal sculptures by the Salvage Divas, Rhonda Green and Anne Fitzgerald, depicting Alaska wildlife; and a colorful, whimsical fabric tree in the children’s section. The tree was created by Ann Carlson, Sherry Henrickson, Jackie Keizer and Deb Turnbull.
Another piece still to be installed is a carved Northwest Coast –style medallion by master carver Nathan Jackson.
As of Monday, the entryway art installation wasn’t quite done. It should be completed early this week.
The Kulluk and the Xiang Rui Kou heavy lift vessel have left their anchorage in Unalaska — but the ships aren’t on their way to Asia yet.
The vessels have been moved to Broad Bay, just outside of town, says Coast Guard Lt. Jim Fothergill. They’ll stay there until Friday, when they’re scheduled to leave for Singapore. Shell has pushed back the departure twice now. Fothergill says he doesn’t know the reason for the delays, and a Shell spokesman did not return requests for information.
After three weeks in port, Shell’s Kulluk drill rig is set to leave Unalaska on Tuesday.
The rig has been loaded on the Xiang Rui Kou heavy lift ship in Captains Bay. Coast Guard Lt. Jim Fothergill says the vessels are scheduled to leave at 10 p.m. Tuesday night. That was pushed back from Monday.
Fothergill wouldn’t say why the plan changed, but he says efforts to secure the rig are still going well. Once they leave Unalaska, the vessels are bound for Singapore, where the Kulluk will be repaired.
The Alaska Legislature has passed a resolution about genetically modified salmon.
The Food and Drug Administration is well on its way to approving the Aqua Bounty corporation’s plans to market the fish.
The resolution, which passed the House last month and the Senate unanimously on Monday, asks the FDA to take another look at the potential risks of allowing the so-called “franken-fish” on the market. If the draft finding holds up, the resolution calls on the federal government to require labeling of genetically-modified salmon.
It was sponsored by freshman Representative Geran Tarr of Anchorage.
As part of Women’s history month, Alaska Public Media brings you the voices of influential Alaskan women who have helped shape and define the social, cultural and political discourse in Alaska. 15 women were recently inducted into the Alaska women’s hall of fame at a ceremony in Anchorage. Former Lt. Governor Fran Ulmer was inducted herself in 2009. She was on hand to introduce one of this year’s inductees-public health and community development advocate Jewel Jones.
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A write-in candidate is challenging Anchorage Assembly Chair Ernie Hall for Seat D, representing West Anchorage, in the upcoming municipal election — his name is Nick Moe. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton has the story.
“Hey Suzie, how’s it going (suzie: hey nick). I’ve been talking, talking you and I was talking about your accomplishment of calling 190 folks. … Nick Moe here, I was calling to see what you’re up to this next week, could use your help. My name is Nick Moe, i’m the write-in candidate for seat D.”
That’s Nick Moe phoning some of the approximately 100 or so volunteers that he says have teamed up to try and get the him elected to the Anchorage Assembly through a write-in campaign. Moe, who declared he was running on March 19th, says, since then, his campaign has taken on a life of its own.
“Since last week, we’ve grown into a pretty incredible organization. You know we have over 400 likes on facebook. We’ve reached out to over 38-thousand people on facebook now. There are hundreds of people who are getting involved in the campaign, volunteering to connect with voters to put up yard signs, to make phone calls and to get the word out that the campaign exists and that west Anchorage has a choice.”
Assembly chair Ernie Hall was running unopposed until Moe jumped in the race as a write in last week. Moe says he’s challenging Hall, the current representative in Seat D, because he hasn’t been listening to his constituents, especially when it comes to AO37, an ordinance proposed by Mayor Dan Sullivan that would limit unions, and which is supported by Hall.
“You know there was over 1-thousand people that showed up to these assembly meetings to speak out that just wanted to show up to the assembly to improve the document. And not only did Ernie Hall not listen but he shut off testimony.”
Moe says he decided to run when he heard that Hall shut down the public hearing before everyone had had a chance to speak. Moe is no stranger to politics. At 19 he ran against Mark Begich for Mayor of Anchorage. After the election, Begich hired him as a renewable resources intern to work on energy and recycling issues. Since then, the 26-year-old has worked as a legislative aid and as a government relations director for University of Alaska Anchorage. Currently, he works for the non-profit, Alaska Center for the Environment. He says he’s running as a *write-in because Mayor Dan Sullivan, along with Hall, introduced the union ordinance at the filing deadline for Assembly seats.
“Ernie Hall introduced AO37 at the filing deadline when he knew that he wouldn’t have a political consequence for doing so.”
Although AO37 cast Moe into the race, he says he’s not running on that issue alone. Moe says he supports investing in education, renewable energy projects and in improving food security. Assembly Chair Hall has lived in West Anchorage since 1961. He has served on the Assembly in seat D for 3 years. He says in that time he’s done a lot for West Anchorage. Hall owned Alaska Furniture Manufacturers for 45 years and is now retired. He says he’s involved with a long list of community organizations.
“the Anchorage economic development corporation. I was the guy that raged the campaign that raised the money to put the food bank in the new building that it’s in. I’ve served on the board of Alaska children’s service, United Way.”
Hall says he refutes Moe’s accusation that he hasn’t been listening to people in West Anchorage. Hall admits though, that does support the union ordinance.
“That document was drafted by the administration. I was on it as a cosponsor. And the reality is anything that comes from administration to the assembly has to come through the chair. But I do, I am a supporter of it.”
The proposed ordinance was announced on February 8th by Mayor Dan Sullivan. It would limit union’s and give the mayor and assembly increased power over union negotiations. It would impact 22-hundred or so municipal employees Hall ended the testimony after listening to four 5-hour evenings where 285 people spoke before the assembly.
To Moe’s challenge Hall says voters should look at his accomplishments since he’s been serving on the Assembly.
“If you look at the accomplishments that I’ve
had from the Campbell Creek Estuary, Spenard Road, the west anchorage district plan, title 21, I think that I’ve been a big part, a very big part of accomplishing each one of those and that’s four pretty major tasks that have been accomplished during my time on the Assembly.”
But Hall says if West Anchorage voters aren’t satisfied with him, they now have another choice. Municipal Elections are Tuesday, April 2nd.