Alaska News Nightly: April 8, 2011

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No Agreement Reached Yet to Avert Shutdown
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage and Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
There’s only a few hours left for Congress to settle disagreement over the 2011 budget or the federal government will shut down at midnight. Earlier today Senator Mark Begich confirmed that both sides in the budget dispute had agreed on a figure for the cuts.

But, Begich said, a small, diehard group of House Republicans is holding up forward progress on the budget bill by attaching riders to the deal.  Begich described the amendments as “social engineering.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski is also frustrated by the process getting bogged down by hard line issues. She says it’s important to remember, this is the budget for this fiscal year and it’s already April.

If the government does indeed shutdown, Senator Begich could only surmise what the effects will be for Alaska.

FHA loans and IRS returns will stop.

The state’s 17,000 federal employees will be furloughed for the most part, and that in itself will be a blow to a struggling economy.

Begich said that the details of military pay are still being worked out.

Senator Lisa Murkowski echoed the concern over continuity for military pay. She says the proposal the House has advanced does include the full budget for defense, but she says even if that plan gets held up, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson has a free standing measure to ensure military pay is not halted.

But Murkowski says she’s also very worried about the federal employees who live paycheck to paycheck. She says she knows they are stressed about what will happen on Monday and those folks do not see a shut down as a holiday.

The Post Office will continue to function, as it is paid for through revenue streams. Social Security checks and veterans benefits should continue to flow. As should Medicare, Medicaid and other assistance programs.

It’s difficult to know what a shutdown would cost, but OMB estimates from the shut down in 1995 placed the direct cost to government at nearly one and a half billion in addition to hundreds of millions in lost revenue for national parks and local governments.

Individual federal department will post information about the furloughs online.

State’s Preparation for Potential Shutdown Began in February
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Governor Parnell says he began in February looking for any potential problems that would come from a shutdown of the federal government.  He said the subject first came up during a meeting of the National Governors’ Association.   On returning to Alaska, he asked his cabinet to make sure the state is ready.

Director of Management and Budget Karen Rehfeld says her office does not anticipate any immediate effects of a shutdown.  However, she says the administration will monitor the state’s needs if the shutdown continues for more than a few days.

Parts of Cook Inlet Designated Critical Beluga Habitat
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday it has designated portions of Cook Inlet as critical habitat for the local beluga whales.

Legislature Confirms Governor’s Appointments to Cabinet, Boards, Commissions
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Friday, the legislature confirmed the appointments Governor Parnell made to his cabinet and to the state’s boards and commissions.  The appointments were considered in a joint session of the House and Senate.

However, there were objections to several of those people.

Bryan Butcher drew considerable, vocal opposition before being confirmed as Commissioner of Revenue – as only eight members voted against him.

Objections were raised by Anchorage Democrat Mike Doogan and Senator Bill

Weilechowski.  Both complained that Butcher had failed to provide information that they thought was important to legislation they were working on.

Doogan wanted to know who had actually written the governor’s oil tax bill that passed the House last month.  He provided a list of requests he had made to Butcher

Wielechowski wanted information on what production and cost information the state is not getting from oil producers.  He said the information would help the state better manage its resources.   Petroleum consultants have pointed out the weakness in the state’s data  system since 2007.   He asked Butcher what specific data other countries collect that Alaska does not get.   He cited eleven requests for that information.

Votes were not partisan, however.   House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula – a Democrat from Juneau – supported Butcher.  However, she reminded him — and the governor – that when legislators make requests, it is serious – and they should be answered seriously.

Butcher was confirmed with a vote of 51 yeas and eight nays.

All the governor’s appointees to the Board of Fish were challenged, but confirmed.

Haase Withdraws Name from Consideration for Judiciary Council
Associated Press
The Governor’s pick for the Alaska Judicial Council has withdrawn his name from consideration. Don Haase says he was painted as an “extremist” and didn’t want to bring disrespect to the board. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended a “no” vote on Haase amid questions about his affiliation with a conservative blog. The committee also was concerned about statements Haase made under questioning about criminalizing adultery and possibly premarital sex.

Storm Surge Creates Deep Kuskokwim Overflow
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
High winds may have subsided but now high waters are presenting a hazard for Kuskokwim River travelers.  With no roads to connect Bethel to outlying villages, the river serves as the main transportation route for trucks and snow machines.  But travelers are having problems getting on, and off, the ice road.  Pete Williams is the Director of the Port of Bethel.  He said a Port employee had to assist a traveler that tried to drive through the overflow Thursday night.

Williams says that the recent storm pushed water into the Kuskokwim, creating overflow 3-4 feet deep in some places. Williams says high tides are particularly dangerous.

Temperatures are expected to drop later this weekend, which should freeze the overflow and make for safer travel conditions.

Anchorage Police Investigating Homeless Death
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Anchorage Police have located the body of a homeless man near the city’s sports arena.   The death is being investigated as a homicide. Thursday, police were called to the scene of a homeless camp along the busy bicycle trail and only a few hundred feet from a quiet residential street.   Officers found the body of a 40 – 45 year old male. The homicide response team was called in to collect evidence.   The state medical examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death.  The victim’s name has not yet been released.  The death marks the third homicide this year in Anchorage.

Suicide Intervention Focuses on Everyday Prevention
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Tribal delegates from around the YK Delta met in Bethel this week for the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s Tribal Unity Gathering in Bethel.

There, the audience learned that hundreds of non-professionals in the YK Delta have been trained to intervene when someone shows the warning signs of suicide.

Trial Held for Man Accused of Inciting a Showdown on the Yukon
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A trial was held this week in Federal Court in Fairbanks for a Central man accused of inciting a showdown with National Park Service rangers on the Yukon River. Jim Wilde only faces misdemeanor charges stemming from the incident last fall, but his case is a flash point in a tug of war over jurisdiction of navigable waters in Alaska.

People Respond to 8(a) Program Criticisms
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
At a Senate Indian Affairs Committee Thursday people responded to criticism of the Small Business Administration 8(a) program, saying recent regulatory changes fix the problems. Tribal representatives say the program promises a fundamental change in the socioeconomic status of Native Americans.

Arctic Man Race Delayed
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
The 26th annual Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go race has been delayed until tomorrow due to heavy snow fall at Summit Lake. The annual spring event brings out thousands along the Richardson Highway to ride, watch and party. As KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports, a full schedule of events is still on tap despite heavy snow and high winds.