Alaska News Nightly: February 22, 2011

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Parnell Believes Senate Leaders Dragging Feet on Oil Tax Changes
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
Governor Sean Parnell says Senate leaders are dragging their feet on oil tax changes he believes would spur future development and jobs.

In a news conference Tuesday morning, Parnell said he’s spoken and written to Senate committee chairmen with no confirmation they plan to take up the legislation.  The House Resources Committee has been holding hearings on the oil and gas production tax.

With the session approaching the half-way point, Parnell says the Senate should also be hearing the bill.  It would provide oil industry incentives and credits beyond those already in state law.

Parnell claims oil companies are leaving the state because of the tax regime.  He says the bill would create tens of thousands of new jobs over 30 years.

But in testimony last week before the House Resources committee, representatives from Exxon Mobil, BP and Conoco-Phillips said they could not guarantee greater investment in Alaska if oil taxes change.  They said such decisions are based on numerous variables – not just taxes.

Under Parnell’s proposal, the state could lose up to $2 billion a year in revenue.  But the governor says it’s important to look out 30 years.

Senate President Gary Stevens – a Republican – says many senators are skeptical of Parnell’s claims that oil companies would step up investment and exploration if the state were to expand its tax credits.

An oil and gas consultant to the Parnell administration recently told House members that it’s difficult to assess the impact of tax changes on the oil and gas industry, because the state requires companies to provide little data.  He noted the state already gives generous tax credits and other deductions, and allows producers to convert tax credits to cash.

Fate of $15 Million in Federal Funds Uncertain
Associated Press
The Governor hasn’t decided whether to return federal funds the state received to implement provisions of the federal health care overhaul he deems unconstitutional. But if the federal government asks for the money back, Parnell says he’ll be happy to return it. According to a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the state received about $15 million for programs under the law. A judge in Florida last month struck down the overhaul as unconstitutional. Alaska was a party in the case. Despite conflicting court rulings in other cases, Parnell considers the Florida ruling the law of the land as it pertains to Alaska.

State Rep Slowly Makes Way Back to Juneau
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
State representative Sharon Cissna is slowly making her way back to Juneau from Seattle. The Anchorage Democrat decided to go by car, small plane and ferry after Transportation Security Administration officials required her to undergo a pat down before boarding her plane on Sunday. And she says she won’t fly again until the TSA changes its procedures.

Alaskans Rally in Support of Wisconsin Public Workers
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Alaska public employees joined thousands across the country Tuesday in rallies to support public workers in Wisconsin. They even learned a song for the occasion.

Unions in Wisconsin are battling the state’s Republican governor and lawmakers who want to do away with the employees’ right to collective bargaining.

Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami led a noon rally across the street from the State Capital Building in Juneau. He says a 30 year assault on workers’ rights by conservative and corporate interests has finally reached a tipping point.

More than 80 people attended the rally, including members of the three largest state employee unions, the National Education Association of Alaska, and the Juneau Central Labor Council. Gary Boatright is a Ketchikan High School math teacher and a member of the NEA.

Public employees in several other states held rallies today (Tuesday) to show solidarity with workers in Wisconsin, including Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, and others.

Rollins Found Guilty of Sexual Assault
Associated Press
A former Anchorage police officer has been found guilty of sexual assault. The Anchorage Daily News reports that Anthony Rollins also was found guilty today of criminal use of a computer and official misconduct for five of six alleged victims. Authorities say the assaults occurred while Rollins was on duty as a police officer in 2008 and 2009. The Superior Court jury in Anchorage acquitted the 43-year-old Rollins of second-degree sexual assault as well as official misconduct involving one of the alleged victims.

Senator Looking Alaskan Input for Budget Trim
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Senator Mark Begich wants Alaskans to propose ideas for trimming the federal budget. The Democrat is asking Alaskans to submit comments to his Congressional website,

House Republicans and Senate Democrats are in a stand-off over whether the federal government will shut down on March 4. The House passed a continuing resolution that will keep the government running, but it includes deep spending cuts Senate Democrats don’t agree with. Begich says some House Republicans are prepared to shut down the government, no matter what.

Begich favors a five-year spending freeze on discretionary federal spending, cutting farm subsidies and selling federal properties the government no longer uses.

Women’s Health Clinic Draws Protestors from Both Sides
Joshua Tucker, APRN – Anchorage
In Alaska, Fred and Mary Michaels have been protesting against abortion outside the Valley Women’s Health clinic in Palmer almost every Friday for the last four years. Now a counter protestor has started driving in from Anchorage to make her voice heard too.

Charges Dropped Against Man With Wolf Hybrid Dogs
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Charges have been dropped against a Healy man accused of keeping two illegal wolf hybrid dogs.  Fairbanks Assistant District Attorney Ben Seekins says the case against Terry Delbene was dropped because the Healy resident didn’t intend to violate Alaska’s law against owning hybrids.

State DNA tests of three dogs Delbene has, showed two with wolf blood.

Wolf hybrids are considered a threat to public safety and a possible disease source for wild wolves.  The state tightened its regulations on wolf hybrids in 2002, and only licensed educational or research facilities can own them.

Fairbanks Digs Out of Storm
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Fairbanks is digging out after a two-day storm that dumped over a foot and a half of snow. National Weather service meteorologist Ted Fathauer in Fairbanks says the blizzard was one for the record books.

The heavy snow fall gave way to high winds yesterday that caused drifts, closed roads, toppled trees and obscured visibility.

Fathauer says the forecast calls for another round of precipitation and high winds, and that could eventually translate into more snow in the interior.

Fathauer says big weather events tend not to double up, and he doesn’t expect another major snow storm.

New Ferry Chief a Longtime System Fan
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
The new head of Alaska’s Marine Highway System has been flying over and sailing through Alaska waters for years. Captain Michael Neussl commanded large in-state operations for the U.S. Coast Guard. But he also has a personal connection with the ferries.

Mt. Edgecumbe Strikes up the Band
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
Mt. Edgecumbe High School has its first full-time music teacher in 25 years. Stephen Courtright has been at the state-run boarding school since the beginning of the year, and with Courtright’s hiring comes the rebirth of a music program that has come and gone in recent history. It’s a program the new teacher – and school administration – hopes will grow into the future.