Alaska News Nightly: December 12, 2011

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Congress Works To Keep Government Funded As Latest Continuing Resolution Ends

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the holidays within the week, but there’s a hefty to-do list remaining before they can leave Washington.  The House and Senate have to keep the government funded and operating past Friday, when their latest Continuing Resolution or “CR” runs out.

They also face a series of appropriations bills and they have to decide whether to renew the payroll tax holiday.

Senator Mark Begich says the payroll tax break, which reduced the amount American workers paid on taxes by nearly $1,000, is one of his priorities:

“I think we have a chance to get the payroll tax extension done, I think it’s important for Alaskans, to the tune of $300 million, nationwide it’s 160 million people.  So it’s a pretty significant issue,” Begich said.

At this point Democrats and Republicans are split on how to pay for an extension of the payroll tax holiday.

Alaska’s GOP Congressman Don Young says he thinks there’s a lot of room for agreement across party lines, but he fears the constant attention of media and 24-hour news reports are causing more showboating and less hard work.

“Unfortunately everybody’s playing bobblehead politics.  Bobblehead politics is because instantaneously the report on Fox News or rush Limbaugh or CNN or Chris Matthews and that type thing and we’re always in a flux.  Because everybody’s worried about how folks will perceive it, instead of taking a position and saying this is what we’re going to do and do it.  And that’s the biggest challenge we’ve got this coming week,” Young said.

Senator Lisa Murkowski says competing versions of the payroll tax extension proposals on both sides of the aisle are in danger of getting stuck on their partisan messaging points.  But she does say substantive progress has been made recently on some the appropriations, or funding bills, targeted at different departments and areas of government.  She says the House and Senate should keep hammering away and get them passed, rather than waiting til the last possible moment.

“Let’s not put the country through this situation where they’re wondering whether or not the government’s going to be shut down.  We’ve cried wolf now on this issue several times already this year.  This is not the season to be doing it.  We need to get our work done,” Murkowski said.

Right now it looks like Congress will likely work through the week and into the weekend.

Occupiers Make Statement at Port of Anchorage

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Protestors managed to shut down a few terminals at ports  in California, Washington and Oregon today, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement to block ports on the West Coast. Here in Alaska, a small but vocal group of Occupiers marched on the Port of Anchorage, not to shut it down, but to make a statement.

Judge Harpoons Petersburg’s Redistricting Challenge

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

A Superior Court judge has ruled against Petersburg’s legal challenge of the Alaska Redistricting Board’s plan for new legislative districts.

In a 16-page decision liberally sprinkled with literary and nautical references, Judge Michael McConahy ruled in favor of a new legislative district that includes Juneau, Petersburg and several other Southeast communities. Executive director Taylor Bickford says the board is pleased with the decision.

Two Fairbanks-area residents are also challenging the Board’s plan and that part of the case is scheduled for trial in January. Petersburg initially challenged the plan on a number of issues. The suit argued the small community would have less of a voice in the state legislature, and had more in common socially and economically with smaller Southeast cities, than with Juneau. Petersburg officials this fall decided to drop those arguments and seek a summary judgement on the issue of whether the new district was compact, as required by the state constitution. City councilor Nancy Strand was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Petersburg can ask the judge to reconsider his decision or appeal it to the state supreme court. The deadline is Dec. 16 to file a motion for reconsideration.

Randall Ranks First Among World Cup Sprinters

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Anchorage skier Kikkan Randall won her second skate sprint World Cup race of the season on Sunday in Davos, Switzerland. She qualified in first place, swept every heat and then won by a commanding 1.7 seconds. The Alaska Pacific University skier is now ranked number one for World Cup sprint races and number 3 overall.

Her APU teammate Holly Brooks also had a great weekend, placing 13th in the 15 kilometer skate event on Saturday.

In a press release, the U.S. Women’s nordic coach Matt Whitcomb said, “It’s a true testament to hard and smart work done by APU Nordic. As we search the country for the next World Cup skier it is comforting to know that APU is hard at work milling its current and future generation.”

Randall has her next chance to win Sunday during the skate sprint in Slovenia.

Government Seeks Delay on Seal Status Decision

Associated Press

The federal government is seeking a six-month delay for deciding whether two seals that depend on sea ice should be listed as a threatened species because of climate warming.

The fisheries section of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also will review the status of ribbon seals, a species rejected for listing in December 2008.

All three seals use sea ice to give birth.

NOAA Fisheries a year ago proposed listing ringed seals found in the Arctic Basin and the North Atlantic and two populations of bearded seals in the Pacific Ocean. A final decision was due Saturday.

NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Julie Speegle said Monday that the agency has proposed delaying the decision until June 10.

She says there’s disagreement over analysis of model projections of future sea ice habitat.

Nome Hopes to Tap into Nearby Natural Gas

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

The Nome city council wants to take advantage of natural gas in the Norton Sound. Facing high electric rates and unstable heating fuel prices, the council wants legislative support in renewing efforts to tap into gas just 25 miles off shore from Nome.

APOC Investigating RGB Bush Planes

Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham

The Alaska Public Offices Commission is heading into the home stretch of their investigation into RBG Bush Planes, a holding company for Robert Gillam’s aircraft.  APOC staff allege the company made inappropriate donations to two candidates running for office in the Lake and Peninsula Borough.

After Long Debate, Polluck Quota Lowered Slightly

Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska

After salmon, pollock is Alaska’s most profitable fishery. It’s certainly the state’s most productive one, with fishermen harvesting a couple billion pounds of the fish annually. But recently, the stock has seen some ups and downs. After a couple of years of record low harvest limits, fishery managers raised this year’s cap by half. That didn’t go over well with some fishermen, who argued that the quota should be brought down once again at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage.

Karluk Manor Proving Popular

Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage

Residents began checking into Karluk Manor late last week. The newly converted motel is now a housing complex for chronic alcohol abusers, in particular those living on the streets, in temporary shelters or illegal campsites.   For the residents, the facility represents warmth, safety, a new chance…and some rules.

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