Alaska News Nightly: April 12, 2011

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House Republicans Unveil Budget Details
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
House Republicans unveiled over night the details of the budget deal hatched on Friday, right at the deadline before a government shutdown.

It cuts more than $38 billion from this year’s budget, which runs until October.

The Congress will vote on the plan’s details this week. Its passage is likely since the top Republican in the House, the top Democrat in the Senate, and President Obama have all given their approval.

Alaska’s delegation is generally supporting it.  Republican Congressman Don Young says bottom line – he doesn’t want to see a government shutdown.  And he’s more worried about the fight over next year’s budget – which is already brewing.

The Denali Commission is getting funding for $10.7 million, down from the $12 million that had been proposed.  There is a lingering question over $15 million in funds that the commission had carried over from various funding streams and then obligated to other projects. Congress says they want the $15 million back. If rescinding those funds stands, that could have a big impact on rural Alaska projects.

The program that gives low income heating assistance, LIHEAP, suffers a cut of $390 million.

Senator Mark Begich says that (LIHEAP) cut is his biggest concern because the program helps 11,000 Alaskan families.

Despite that, Begich says at this point he’s inclined to support the overall deal.

Begich is also watching the nearly $1 billion in cuts to grants for the clean water projects for local governments and Native tribes.  That’s part of a $1.6 billion cut to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Begich says because this bill was centered around spending, they couldn’t make revenue policy decisions – like trying to eliminate tax breaks for the wealthy.  He says those arguments are looming though.  Just like Congressman Young, Begich says the big focus will soon be on next year’s budget, and he says brace for a big fight.

XS Platinum Hopes to Revise Old Mines, Open New Ones
Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham
A mine is in the works for Togiak National Wildlife refuge near Dillingham. Mining claims were made for the area long before the refuge existed. Now a company called Excess Platinum wants to revise the old platinum mine sites and open some new sites.

Coastal Management Program Talks Fall Apart
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Talks to keep the coastal management program going after July first have fallen apart.   Word came in messages to negotiators this morning that Governor Sean Parnell had decided to suspend talks to resolve the remaining differences between the administration and developers – and legislators representing coastal residents.

After requesting more information, APRN received a terse e-mail message from the governor’s press secretary Sharon Leighow stating, “the governor’s involvement is ACMP negotiations has ended indefinitely.”  Leighow later said the governor felt the talks were at an impasse because the latest version of the bill hinders development – which is counter to what the governor wants to accomplish.   The governor’s point person on the issue, Deputy Commissioner of Natural Resources Joe Balash has returned to Anchorage.

Identical House and Senate bills on the issue are pending action before adjournment on Sunday.  However, Monday, Attorney General John Burns raised concerns over several points in the bill.  Bethel Democrat Bob Herron says today’s talks were set up to look at those concerns.   And Herron says he is not giving up on the issue.

Valdez Republican Eric Feige – who was also involved in rewriting the bill – says the most recent version respected what the governor said were principles he would not neglect. Those standards were combined with the wants and desires of coastal communities.

The bills are still in committee, and Bethel Senator Lyman Hoffman says the legislature will continue to look at them.

Depending on the rewritten version that Herron comes up with in the House, Hoffman says he is prepared to work to send the governor the bills that are now on the table.

Begich Calls for Education Overhaul
Jerzy Shedlock, APRN – Anchorage
Senator Mark Begich is calling for an education overhaul, because he thinks the No Child Left Behind law isn’t working for the state.  He has reintroduced legislation for a teaching and learning program that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math- or STEM education. Begich believes education in these areas can prepare students for the jobs of the future.

Studded Tire Deadline Balances Safety With Road Damage
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
Vehicle owners have just over two weeks to remove studded tires or face a $50 fine. The May first stud deadline is standard for the interior, but recent snow and ice prompted its extension to cover areas of southern Alaska. The state balances safety with road damage in determining how long into the spring studded tires can be used.

Art Project Aims to Revitalize Fairbanks Hotel
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A downtown Fairbanks art project is aimed at tapping public emotion and creativity to revitalize an old hotel.  Two big chalkboards have been installed along the street level of the empty Polaris building.  The Alaska Design Forum funded project has brought New Orleans artist Candy Chang to Fairbanks.  Chang, who has a background in urban planning and graphic design, says the “Looking for Love Again” project is set up to remember the old high rise’s past, and explore its potential.

Chang says the chalkboard project, which is also supported by the Downtown Association,  provides a way for people to get involved and shape the neighborhood.  The 11 story Polaris is Fairbanks tallest building.  It has sat empty for the last decade, but a developer has been given tax breaks and is trying to raise funds, to restore it.  Chang says the challenges posed by old buildings like the Polaris, and their redevelopment, are a common one.

Comments posted on the two 8 by 16 foot Polaris Building blackboards will be logged and posted on a companion website.

Native Youth Olympics Coming to Anchorage
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
The 41st Native Youth Olympics is coming up at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage from April 29 through May 1. As KNBA’s Joaqlin Estus reports, several factors have contributed to the longevity of this annual event.

Bethel Judge Marvin Hamilton Dies
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Superior Court Judge Marvin Hamilton III passed away Saturday night at his home in Bethel from what appears to have been a heart attack.  He was 55-years old. Hamilton traveled the world before presiding over one of the busiest criminal courts in the state, but he’ll be remembered for more than just his time on the bench.