Alaska News Nightly: January 31, 2012

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Jim Browder Selected As Next ASD Superintendent

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School Board has selected the new superintendent for the Anchorage School District. The Board reviewed more than 150 applications for the position.

New Oil, Gas Bill Expected By End Of Next Week

Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau

The Senate is working on getting final plans in order to have a new oil and gas tax bill before the public by the end of next week.  President Gary Stevens has said he has no intention of working with the tax-rewrite bill the governor introduced – and the House passed. Tuesday morning he said he expects to see the fresh bill ready for hearings before the Resources Committee by Friday of next week.  He says the goal is to get the measure to the House for consideration at least a month before the end of the session.

Anchorage Republican Lesil McGuire is taking charge of rewriting a portion of the bill dealing with progressivity – how tax rates vary as prices rise and fall.  She says consultants and drafters are currently working on three different alternatives.

“Our strategy at this point,  Senator Wagoner and I have talked, is to allow the committee to decide.  There’s a placeholder in the bill as he just referenced – so there will be a placeholder for progressivity, but it would be my intent to offer a couple of different versions of progressivity to allow the conversation to take place in the Senate Resources Committee,” McGuire said.

McGuire says the variable tax rate is the most important element of the bill since it must encourage development of resources that have already been identified.  She says tax credits the state already has in place seem to be encouraging enough new exploration.

Finance Co-Chair Bert Stedman says the bill going to the Resources Committee next week will signal only a starting point.   He says when it gets to his committee members will look at two high profile issues – the effects of progressivity on revenue and the state’s use of tax credits.

“Clearly if oil prices go north of $200, we could be faced with paying over a hundred percent of the capital expenditures in the oil basin.   And that is a not a position the state of Alaska should be exposed to.  So it is a balance between how we stimulate capital costs and how our tax structure is on the other end when there’s high oil prices,” Stedman said.

Stedman said the first goal of the committees is to identify the problems they expect to solve with a new tax structure.   He cautioned against dumping solutions on the table before they are needed if members plan to finish work by the scheduled end of the session.

North Slope to Canada Gas Line Take Place in Fairbanks

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Fairbanks was the site of the first in a series of public meetings Monday night on the proposed gas line from the North Slope to Canada. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is hosting the meetings as part of the scoping process for an Environmental Impact Statement for the Alaska Pipeline Project.

Kotzebue Jail Remains Closed To Some Prisoners

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The Kotzebue Regional Jail has been closed since Dec. 1 to all prisoners arrested by state agencies. This is the result of a funding dispute between the City of Kotzebue and the Department of Corrections. The city had hoped to re-negotiate its contract with DOC by Feb. 1. But Kotzebue City Finance Director Keith Greene says funding issues continue, and as a result, the jail won’t re-open Wednesday.

Kotzebue Police Chief Craig Motes says the jail will continue to house local prisoners. But it will remain closed to prisoners arrested by state agencies.

Funding for the Kotzebue jail has been static at an annual $880,000 since 2007. The governor’s 2012 proposed budget increases the jail’s funding to just over $944,000. While that does represent an increase in funding, Greene says it isn’t enough: a city audit for fiscal year 2011 shows jail operating expenses of $1.19 million. With the $944,000 already being used for 2013’s budget, Greene says funding will fall well short of what it costs the city to operate the jail.

DOC Administrative Services Director Leslie Houston says Kotzebue’s audits for the jail differ from their own. Staffing is one area of the jail’s budget that Houston says exceeds what DOC is willing to pay.

Until the Kotzebue jail fully re-opens, state agencies will continue transporting prisoners to Nome’s Anvil City facility for holding, and back to Kotzebue for trial and arraignment. Houston says she doesn’t know the costs associated with such transport, but during the Kotzebue jail’s previous closure from 2003 to 2005, the state spent $1.5 million on similar prisoner holding and transport costs.

In addition to the funding, Greene says there’s also an issue of certification: when the city closed the jail in December, he says the facility’s certification as a regional jail was pulled. Re-opening would mean all liability for prisoners would fall on the city of Kotzebue, and not on the Department of Corrections.

Houston says DOC will meet with representatives of Kotzebue to discuss the future of the jail on Feb. 7.

Parnell, Delegation Respond To Possible Military Base Closures

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

The Parnell administration and all three members of the state’s congressional delegation were quick to respond to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement last week that President Obama will seek another round of military base closures.  APRN’s Steve Heimel reports that the Secretary’s idea is a non-starter, but there are bound to be Pentagon spending cuts in the future.

ACMP Initiative Verification Marches On

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

More than 60 percent of signatures collected by the group behind a citizen’s initiative to revive the Alaska Coastal Management Program have been verified by an initial computer review.

K300 Raffle Winner Starting Scholarship Fund

Mark Arehart, KYUK – Bethel

Rohn Buser of Big Lake won the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race.  But, he’s not the only winner.

Carmen Brown of Aniak won the grand prize in this year’s K300 raffle: a check for $50,000.  She says she won’t be spending it all on herself.