Alaska News Nightly: September 21, 2010

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PFD Announced at $1,281 This Year
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
Today, Governor Sean Parnell announced this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend.

Parnell and other administration members announced the amount in the lobby of the Juneau building that houses the main offices of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.

This year’s amount is only slightly less than last year’s dividend of $1,305. That’s even with what Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation executive director Mike Burns says was one of the five all-time worst years in the stock market, ever.

Despite that recent volatility, the total value of the Alaska Permanent Fund is now at $35.6 billion.

A total of $821.9 million dollars is being paid out this year to 641,595 Alaskans.

Approximately 30,000 other applications are still under review.

Dividends will be directly deposited into bank accounts on October 7. That’s also the day when paper checks will go in the regular mail.

Republicans May Strip Murkowski of Place on Energy Committee
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senate Republicans will likely strip Senator Murkowski of her ranking position on the Energy Committee, as punishment for her decision to run a write-in campaign.

Murkowski lost the GOP primary last month, but says she’s still a Republican.  That’s not enough for party members in the Senate who are backing primary winner Joe Miller.

Wednesday afternoon, Republican Senators will meet behind closed doors to vote on whether to take away Murkowski’s powerful position as their top member on the energy committee.  It’s been a plum seat, especially for an Alaskan legislator, weighing-in on oil and gas issues and renewable energy legislation.

The other nine Republican members are expected to recommend the move.  Murkowski would still sit on the committee, just not as one of its leaders.

She already resigned from her leadership role as Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference – after pressure from GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell told reporters Tuesday that Republicans will choose tomorrow who will replace her in the top inner circle of Republican leaders.

Lisa Murkowski is not in Washington this week, so she won’t be at tomorrow’s meeting.  She decided to stay in Alaska to campaign, which is not usual for embattled candidates. She was the only member of the Senate who missed today’s vote on whether to bring to the floor the Defense Authorization Bill, which included the controversial Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Murkowski’s vote was not seen as crucial or a swing vote, because all Republicans voted “no.”

Effort to Repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ Falters in Senate
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senate Democrats lost their attempt today to take up a major military bill that includes allowing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – the Clinton-era policy banning openly gay soldiers in the military.  The defense authorization bill also called for $726 billion in defense spending, including a pay raise for troops.

Democrats weren’t able to gain any Republicans.

Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich says it’s too bad the vote to start debate on the bill faltered, because he believes it’s time to discuss allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

Supporters like Senator Begich point out that the Senate bill would not immediately lift Don’t Ask Don’t Tell…  It would wait until a study is completed and the President and top military commanders agree that ending the law would not hurt troop morale or battle-readiness.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have called to end the ban on openly gay service-members.  But Tuesday, the President’s appointee to head the Marine Corps, General James Amos, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he fears changing the policy will be “distracting” to Marines in the battlefield.

Issue of Genetically Engineered Salmon Remains Undecided
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
It may be some time before the federal Food and Drug Administration decides whether or not to allow genetically engineered Atlantic salmon to reach local food markets.   After three days of meetings on the issue in Maryland, the jury is still out.

Taylor Highway Repairs Making Progress
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
State contractors working to repair rain damaged sections of the Taylor Highway between Chicken and Eagle for two months, are making progress.  Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says work on slides and washouts on the 30 miles between Chicken and the Top of the World Highway Junction is nearing completion.

Bailey says the state plans to work into the winter to get the next 60 miles, to Eagle fixed.  That stretch has been closed except for a few vehicle convoys earlier this month.  Bailey says the state will provide additional opportunities to drive in and out of the Yukon River community beginning September 26.

The convoys are scheduled to allow Eagle residents a chance to make road trips to Fairbanks and Anchorage.   Ann Millard of Eagle says locals have a lot to do in town, including getting supplies for winter.

Millard says fuel will also be trucked into Eagle during the convoys.  The Taylor Highway is not maintained in the winter and the road is usually closed by ice and snow around mid October.  The D.O.T.’s Bailey says the agency is seeking funding for snow removal to allow travel at least through October.

Professor Excited About ‘Knowledge Network’ to Promote Information Sharing
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Last year a team that included scientists, business owners, environmentalists and native leaders in Alaska released a report outlining action the state can take to begin adapting to climate change. What has state government done with the report since then? Nothing, according to Terry Chapin, a University of Alaska Fairbanks ecology professor.

Today, Chapin summarized those recommendations during a live internet presentation for the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy. One idea he is particularly excited about is a “knowledge network” that would allow for dialogue between the people who have information and people who need it.

Warm Temperatures Delay First Freeze, Snow
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The interior’s warm fall continues, as high pressure that’s dominated Alaska weather for the past two weeks, persists. National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Thoman says it’s resulted in consistently above normal temperatures and a few records.

The Nome and Kotzebue records were 60 degrees, while the McGrath highs were all around 70.  Thoman says the high pressure system has substantially delayed the first official freeze at the Weather Service’s Fairbanks recording station.

Thoman says many areas have seen frost over the last month, and those that haven’t likely will in the next several days, as the high pressure air shifts.

Thoman says while temperatures will cool somewhat, it’s expected to remain dry.  The average first snow in Fairbanks is September 23, but Thoman says there’s no precipitation in the current outlook.

Berkowitz Seeks Tax Cuts for Alaskan Businesses
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Ethan Berkowitz wants to make cuts to a very small portion of the state’s revenue – in exchange for a large return to Alaskan businesses.

The Democrats’ candidate for governor says that reductions to the corporate income tax – less than one percent of the state’s total income – would be balanced by an increase in the number of businesses headquartered in the state and be an economic stimulus.  In announcing his plan, Berkowitz said the goal is to make the state less dependent on resource extraction while getting more benefits from the resources themselves.

Berkowitz wants to eliminate all taxes for companies making less than $90,000 a year and reduce the tax rate on larger businesses from 9.4 percent to 4.9 percent.  He would also offer tax credits in seven separate categories.  He says those incentives include such  breaks as credits for companies that are headquartered in the state, that have 100 or more employees, that do research and development in Alaska or that bank in the state.

The corporate income tax is separate from oil, gas and mining taxes and is projected to bring in $80 million in the current year.  Berkowitz says that is $20 million less than last year.   His reductions and incentives are estimated to cost the state $38 million based on the current tax regime.

Governor Sean Parnell did not directly address Berkowitz’s proposal, but his campaign staff issued a statement criticizing Berkowitz’ opposition to federal tax cuts, and his opposition to tax cuts for the oil industry.

Several Alaska Native Leaders Backing Murkowski
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Several Alaska Native leaders are backing Lisa Murkowski’s write in campaign bid to hold onto her U.S. Senate seat.  The Legislative Committee of the Alaska Federation of Natives voted Monday to endorse Murkowski. And Willie Hensley, author and former state senator joined the crowd Friday when Murkowski launched her campaign.

Later state Senator Albert Kookesh, who is a Democrat who also co chairs the Alaska Federation of Natives, spoke in Murkowski’s favor.

Senator Kookesh is the chairman of Sealaska Corporation.

Murkowski supports a bill that would allow Sealaska Corporation to select lands within the Tongass National Forest.

Coho Salmon Upbringing Raises Questions
Melati Kaye, KFSK – Petersburg
The lifecycle of Coho salmon may be more complicated than once thought. Researchers are finding that some fish may grow up in more than one stream.