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Timber, languages, Murkowski things to watch

Posted: February 17, 2014 - 12:03am

JUNEAU — With the scheduled 90-day session about one-third of the way over, at least four different committees are planning hearings on gas line matters this week in an effort to get as many members as possible up to speed on one of this year’s top issues.

The Senate Finance Committee is planning two-a-days Wednesday through Friday, with morning sessions generally focused on the capital budget and late-afternoon hearings on issues related to the liquefied natural gas project. A fiscal analysis of the gas line agreements also is on Friday morning’s agenda.

The House and Senate Resources committees and House Labor and Commerce Committee also have project-related hearings on tap.

On the budget side, Senate Finance Committee co-chair Kevin Meyer said he would like to keep the level of capital spending about the same as what Gov. Sean Parnell proposes. But he said if money can be cut on the operating side — the House has taken the lead on the operating budget — that could leave some room to add to the capital, or infrastructure, budget.

“But certainly, when every dollar now that you’re spending is coming out of your savings, you want to be as lean as you possibly can,” Meyer, R-Anchorage, said.

Another major budget-related issue lawmakers will still need to delve into is Parnell’s proposed transfer of $3 billion from savings toward addressing the state’s unfunded pension liability.

For a holiday week that appears to be anything but slow, here are three other things to watch:

 

Tongass timber

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, argues the state still has land available to it under the Alaska Statehood Act and should be able to select some of the remaining entitlement from the Tongass National Forest without the land’s use being restricted for recreation and community expansion.

SCR2, from Stedman, is aimed at helping southeast Alaska’s ailing timber industry. It calls on the governor to negotiate the selection or purchase of land in the Tongass or to work with the state’s congressional delegation to change the statehood act, which limits the size and use of land the state can select in the forest.

Stedman, in his sponsor statement, said more than 90 percent of Southeast’s available timberlands are in the Tongass and 2 percent of the forest is managed for timber, leaving the U.S. Forest Service with “monopoly power over the timber supply.”

“Since the U.S. Forest Service is no longer able to provide enough timber in the Tongass National Forest to sustain a viable timber industry in Southeast Alaska, it is time for the Governor to intervene,” Stedman said in his statement.

 

Official languages

Alaska’s official state language is English. But the list of official languages could get longer if HB216 is passed.

The bill, from Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, would make 20 different Alaska Native languages official state languages, along with English. The bill lists the Inupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Unangax, Dena’ina, Deg Xinag, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Gwich’in, Tanana, Upper Tanana, Tanacross, Han, Ahtna, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages.

Kreiss-Tomkins, in his sponsor statement, called this a symbolic gesture, similar to having a state flower or fish. But he said it’s also “an important step in recognizing the living, breathing” Alaska Native languages.

A hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday.

 

Murkowski visit

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is scheduled to address a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday. The state’s U.S. senators often use their annual address to Alaska lawmakers to update them on goings-on in Washington and sometimes to encourage or chide them, depending on the issue. Sen. Mark Begich is scheduled to deliver his address next month.

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