Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Proposal calls for using windfall for education

JUNEAU - The House Finance Committee on Tuesday proposed putting $854 million in oil surplus and general fund revenue into a new public education fund for Alaska schools.

The proposal was a late addition to the governor's fast-track supplemental appropriation request to this year's budget.

It calls for putting $400 million of this year's oil revenue surplus - which the committee estimates at about $500 million - and adding more than $450 million in general fund revenue and lapsed funds into the proposed public education fund.

"It takes all the windfall and puts it into our No. 1 priority, which is education," said Finance Co-chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage.

A bill creating the education fund earlier passed the Legislature and has been sent to the governor for his signature.

Tuesday night's action is a first step toward early funding and fully funding education, said Co-chairman Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.

Schools would still receive a $70 million increase in education spending, which would bring total spending per student to $4,919, under a separate bill in the Senate Finance Committee.

Many school districts and education associations have said $4,919 per student is not enough. Several have said they still would have to cut programs or would have deficits at that level of funding.

ConocoPhillips pulls TV commercial

JUNEAU - ConocoPhillips is pulling television ads claiming Alaska is the "most costly place on earth" for the oil industry to do business.

ConocoPhillips spokeswoman Dawn Patience said the decision came after four Democratic state lawmakers requested the ads be withdrawn.

A study by international consulting firm Wood Mackenzie, purchased this year by the Legislature, ranks Alaska as the 19th-least costly place to do business out of 53 regions, when the price of oil is above $35 a barrel. The price of North Slope crude was $51 a barrel.

Patience said the Wood Mackenzie study was updated this year and the commercial is being pulled to reflect the new numbers.

Fox's 150-foot tall ice sculpture collapses

FOX - The 150-foot ice sculpture built here and dubbed the Fox Icescraper collapsed with an earthshaking crash after weeks of above-normal temperatures.

The lighted ice tower built by John Reeves next to the Steese Highway collapsed late Sunday, done in by a significant lean that had developed over the weekend.

"It woke me up out of a dead sleep," said Ben Ballard, who lives a couple hundred yards in a house rented from Reese. "It felt like an earthquake."

His roommate, Travis Conway, was awake to hear "this shaking, rumbling thing."

"I looked out there and the lights weren't on anymore," Conway said.

But it wasn't till daybreak Monday that they and scores of passing commuters saw what had happened.

Remains of the tower lay in a heap of jumbled blue boulders of ice. The huge chunks surrounded a 40-foot ice cone that had served as the tower's base.

"Gravity happens," shrugged Reeves, 52 and a self-proclaimed "freeform, industrial ice artist."

Sen. Stevens pushes cable-rating system

FAIRBANKS - Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens said he plans to use his new position as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to create a more effective rating system for cable television.

Stevens said Friday he's not a "prude" but he wants to level the field between local broadcasters and cable.

"I like to watch 'The Sopranos' once in a while," he said. "I turn them off once in a while, too."

Stevens said he was surfing channels recently and came across a program full of "four-letter words and participles."

"There's just no reason for that coming through," he said.

Stevens, R-Alaska, said he plans to take up his bill after Congress returns from its Easter break, which starts next week.

The cable industry argues that it already has offered subscribers several ways to control programs, if they want to do so. Stevens said he doesn't think the cable companies' solutions work well enough.

"We're not going to censor cable," Stevens said. "We're not saying anything about purchases, except we're saying they have the burden to tell you what's in it like the movie business does, not force you to expose your children first and then go back and say, 'How can I get rid of this stuff?"'

Knik Arm Bridge gets speedy review process

WASILLA - An environmental review required for the proposed Knik Arm Bridge has been put on the fast track, one of three projects selected nationwide for a new program to speed up the process.

The project is one of three selected nationally by the Federal Highway Administration for a new "teambuilding initiative" program. The program allows local officials to get immediate help from agency experts around the country, said Edrie Vinson, an Alaska-based highway administration official overseeing the Knik Arm Bridge review.

Vinson said the new initiative could cut the review time in half, trimming what could be a three-year process down to a year and a half.

The proposed bridge, which still needs hundreds of millions of dollars in construction funding, would stretch nearly two miles across Knik Arm from the Point MacKenzie area to a spot near the Anchorage port. Current estimates have pegged the cost of construction between $400 and $600 million, although past estimates have ranged as high as $2 billion.

The environmental review is required before any construction could begin. The bridge review will include a comprehensive analysis of effects from increased smog and traffic to effects on the beluga whales that live in Knik Arm. It also requires officials to take public comment.

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