Alaska News Nightly: April 6, 2011

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Latest State Revenue Forecast Predicts $3.4 Billion More Than Expected
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The Department of Revenue says the state will have more money this year than it anticipated last fall.

Wednesday morning, Governor Parnell presented the Department of Revenue’s newest financial forecasts that show– during this year and next – the state will take in 3.4 billion more than was expected at the time of last fall’s forecast. Parnell says the prices reflect higher oil prices – with the per-barrel estimate now between $12 and $14 higher than projected in the fall.

Parnell says he hopes the money doesn’t trigger higher spending by the legislature this year, and he’s setting limits. He says the details are negotiable.

Senate Finance leaders Tuesday announced that they had already saved $1.4 billion using the lower revenue estimates. House finance Co-Chair Bill Stoltze said that savings is a matter of definition.

The state already has about $10 billion in a savings account.

Over 16,000 Alaska Jobs May Be Affected by Possible Federal Government Shutdown
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
More than 16,000 federal workers are on the job in Alaska. And with a Congressional impasse over the budget, they are all wondering what they’ll do if an agreement isn’t reached by Friday.

Oil Tax Debate Continues
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The President of Conoco Phillips Alaska made his case for lower state oil taxes before the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce yesterday. Trond Erik Johansen pushed for tax reductions proposed by Governor Sean Parnell, including breaks for development of new fields and a reduction in the rate at which the state’s production tax goes up with the price of oil. Johansen said cutting back the progressivity factor is the fastest way to get more oil in the Trans Alaska Pipeline, because it would leverage development in existing fields.

Johansen said oil company investment in Alaska is flat, and that each well is bringing up less oil. He said the easy oil has been produced and companies need to invest more to develop thicker oil from aging fields like Prudhoe and Kuparuk.

Johansen said that’s driving development spending to places with less progressive tax rates like North Dakota and Alberta, Canada. He said the industry is making good money in Alaska, but that the state’s future hinges on tax cuts to stimulate new investment.

Johansen said it takes five to 10 years before new development projects result in increased oil flow, and that if the state delays too long, new oil won’t be available fast enough to avert low flow, freeze up issues with the pipeline.

Senate Passes Bill Giving Legislature 120 Days in Even-Numbered Years
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
The legislature would have an extra month every two years to do the people’s business under a bill passed by the state Senate Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President Gary Stevens of Kodiak, would go back to the 120 day limit proscribed in the state constitution during even numbered years. The 90 day session would still be in effect in odd years.

During debate on the Senate floor, Angoon Senator Albert Kookesh said he’d prefer 120 days every year, but thinks the bill strikes a good balance.

But bill opponents, like Wasilla Senator Charlie Huggins, say not enough has been done to make the 90 day session work.

The bill now goes to the state House, where a bill to do away with the 90-day limit entirely has cleared the State Affairs Committee and is awaiting a hearing in the Finance Committee.

High School Vocation Education Programs Get Dedicated Funding Stream
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Wednesday, the Senate created a dedicated funding stream for high school vocational education programs to train students for the jobs that might be available when they graduate.

Fairbanks Democrat Joe Thomas says the bill provides a thirty eight million dollar increase to be shared among local schools to boost the base student allocation. More than eleven million of that money will go to vocational-education programs.

Thomas says he’s learned that in some school districts vocational education programs have to compete with other programs for enough money to keep them going. He says they are usually classified with special education, bi-lingual students and gifted students.

The Bill next goes to the House for consideration.

Struggle Over Security Limits Certain Types of Mail on Alaska Airlines
Jacob Resneck, KMXT – Kodiak
A bureaucratic tussle over security has forced Alaska Airlines to stop carrying certain types of mail on passenger planes. Most communities have been able to reroute affected parcels but it’s caused headaches across the state. Meanwhile both Alaska Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration are keeping mum on what it’s all about.

Film Tax Credits Extended 10 More Years
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill to continue funding tax credits for filming television shows and movies in Alaska. Sponsor Johnny Ellis of Anchorage says the initial five years of the credits have been a success.

Ellis says the credits are only given after the money has been spent and the production has occurred in the state. The bill passed with no opposition and next goes to the House for consideration.

Alyeska Trading Company to Close its Doors
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
Wards Cove used to be a major force in the Alaska fishing industry. But earlier this year, the company sold off many of its assets and pulled out of the seafood business altogether. In Unalaska, that sale has had a significant impact on the community — but not in the way you might expect.

Voters Shift Assembly A Little to the Right
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
The Anchorage Assembly will likely become a bit more conservative when yesterday’s municipal election results are certified and its apparent newest member takes office.