Alaska News Nightly: April 1, 2011

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Treadwell Releases State’s Review of 2010 Election
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell released the state’s review of Alaska’s 2010 election to the legislature and the public Friday.

Governor Sean Parnell and Treadwell promised to complete a review of last year’s election when they signed the certification documents in December. Treadwell said the state Department of Law, the division of elections and others assisted in the review.  Many of the proposed changes were prompted by Alaska’s thorny Senate race last November.

After the results of the Senate race were challenged, the courts recommended that the state clarify its election law regarding write in ballots.

Under the state statute, voter intent can be determined by an election official, and the new law would ensure that law is consistent with court rulings.  Treadwell said both a Senate and House bill deal with that language.

The lieutenant governor said two federal laws are being taken into account while those changes are being considered.  They are the Help America Vote Act and the Military Overseas Voting Empowerment Act.

Other changes would move the deadline for declaring write in candidacy to 21 days before the election, another would change the primary date.

Many of the changes are aimed at the training of and the work done by poll workers.   Treadwell said a University of Alaska study done some years ago on ballot security issues was helpful in the review, and the University will be asked to look at security issues as they are today.

Treadwell emphasized that the proposed statue changes would have not made any difference in the outcome of Alaska’s Senate race.

Treadwell said the federal Department of Justice has to approve any changes in the state’s election statute.

Senate Awards Financial Help to Governments, Schools Facing High Fuel Prices
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Local governments and schools would get extra financial help when they face high fuel prices under a bill that passed the Senate Friday.

The measure ties Municipal Revenue Sharing and the Base Student Allocation to oil prices that are more than anticipated when the budget was written.

In presenting the measure to the Senate, Senate Finance Co-chair Lyman Hoffman said the idea came from local residents who complained they couldn’t provide services because of high oil prices.

Hoffman explained that a $1 increase in the annual average price of oil results in an extra $100 million in state revenue.   He said the previous year’s average oil price is the base for the amount of the supplement – with schools and communities sharing an extra $5 million for every dollar above that amount.

As an example of the impact of the supplement, he said for this current year, local schools would share about twenty million dollars.

The measure passed on a 19 to one vote. The full program would go into effect next year but an equivalent amount of money has been included in the Senate’s version of the operating budget that passed today.

Senate Passes Version of State’s Operating Budget
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Friday, the Senate passed its version of the state’s operating budget for next year.   Finance Co-chair Lyman Hoffman said the plan spends $5.7 billion in state money – only about $10 million less that the total amount the governor proposed in December.

There was no opposition to the budget. The plan will return to the House for a confirming vote.

House Passes Governor’s Oil Tax Bill
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The state House Thursday night passed the governor’s controversial oil tax bill that is expected to make large reductions in state revenue.

The plan’s trade-off is the hope that the tax breaks to the oil industry will increase now-stagnant production on the North Slope.

Five members of the House majority voted against the measure that passed on a twenty two to sixteen vote after several hours of debate.

Among those Republicans voting against the bill was Majority Leader Alan Austerman, of Kodiak.  He said he agreed with the need for lowering oil taxes,  but he couldn’t support the governor’s way of doing it.

Earlier in the day, Democrats had unsuccessfully proposed amendments that would have required specific actions or results from oil companies getting the tax benefits.   Anchorage Democrat Mike Doogan said the bill is a mistake.

Many supporters expressed concerns about the technical aspects of the bill.  However, they said the recognition that oil production is declining overshadowed those concerns.  Juneau Republican Cathy Munoz said Alaska has been fortunate in the past few years while the rest of the country has suffered.

The bill next goes to the Senate where the bipartisan majority has said it will not pass.

Imagination Library Kicking Off in Dillingham
Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham
Saturday is the kickoff off of the Imagination Library in Dillingham. They’ll be celebrating a program that gives kids a free book each month from birth through age five. In rural places like Dillingham, that often don’t have billboards and road signs, experts say it’s critical to find creative ways to get kids to read.  KDLG’s Daysha Eaton brings us the story of an Alaska Native woman who’s partnering with a country western legend to get books inside homes.

Sitka Sac Roe Herring Fishery Remains Open for Second Day
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery had its second opening Friday afternoon and the second day’s harvest was much larger than the first.

The fishery opened today at 1:40 p.m. and closed a little more than an hour later. Early estimates put today’s catch at around 5,000 tons.

The guideline harvest level for this year’s fishery is 19,490 tons.

St. Marys Mother Awarded $240 Thousand for Boil Complications
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
A mother from the Yukon village of  St. Marys was awarded over a quarter million dollars in a medical malpractice suit that arose after complications from a boil her son had.

Golden Valley Electric May Pursue North Slope Gas
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Golden Valley Electric Association may pursue trucking in North Slope natural gas as a means to getting a cheaper, cleaner burning fuel to generate power. The utility is among several major potential gas customers already working with the Alaska Gasline Port Authority on a similar project, but GVEA President and CEO Brian Newton says the electric coop is comparing the potential benefits of going it alone with those of teaming up with the Port Authority.

The voter created Port Authority’s gas trucking project is estimated to cost $250 million.  Newton says GVEA may be able to do a project for less.

Golden Valley representatives are travelling to southern California to check out a natural gas trucking operation that uses a processing facility similar to one that would have to be built on the North Slope to liquefy gas for transport via tankers down the Dalton Highway.  Newton says GVEA needs to see if the technology will work in Alaska.

1946 Aleutian Quake Triggered Massive Tsunami
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
One of the biggest tsunamis of the twentieth century was generated by an earthquake off the coast of the Aleutian Islands on April 1, 1946.

While a series of waves hit Hawaii, then California and even South America, causing destruction and deaths, a local tsunami 13 stories high devastated a Coast Guard lighthouse on Unimak Island.

Biologists May Consider Bald Eagles to be Invasive Species
Tara Bicknell, KHNS – Haines
Haines has one of the largest annual gatherings of American bald eagles in the world. But because of new research about their local habitat, biologists are now considering moving the entire bird population.

April Fool’s Alaska!