State Briefs

Posted: Tuesday, April 08, 2003

House Finance sends larger budget to floor

JUNEAU - The state House will consider a fiscal 2004 budget that spends more than first proposed by Gov. Frank Murkowski and cuts less deeply into K-12 education funding.

The House Finance Committee approved a spending plan Saturday that restores some of the cuts proposed by the governor, including $20 million for education. It also spends more than Murkowski had said was allowable to meet his spending objectives for the next fiscal year.

Murkowski had proposed a $2.16 billion budget that reduces overall general fund spending by $55 million and draws $393 million from the state's depleting reserve account.

Murkowski had called on the GOP-controlled Legislature to approve his budget or craft their own that falls within his spending guidelines.

House Finance Co-chairman John Harris, a Valdez Republican, said the state's fiscal picture has grown more bleak and the governor's budget objectives may not be possible.

Oil revenues that pay for the lion's share of state spending are expected to be about $1 per barrel less than previously thought, Harris said. That leaves a $77 million hole in the state budget that hadn't been expected, he said.

House Republican budget writers beat back more than $50 million in budget amendments offered by Democrats during Saturday's budget hearing.

Democrats had sought to restore some of the cuts proposed by the governor in key areas such as education, social services and aid to municipalities. The GOP-controlled committee rejected the amendments, mostly along party lines.

The budget plan is expected to go to the House floor this week.

Murkowski signs bill to spur talks on pipeline

JUNEAU - Gov. Frank Murkowski signed a bill Monday that renews the Stranded Gas Act.

The act, which allowed for negotiations of fiscal terms for a natural gas project, expired two years ago.

House Bill 16 received unanimous House approval and passed with 19 votes and one member excused from voting in the Senate.

The law lowers the amount of capital assets and lines of credit for companies to participate in a natural gas pipeline project. It also extends the expiration date of the act to March 31, 2005, and allows the Department of Revenue to use multiple independent contractors to evaluate applications and develop contract terms.

The natural gas line has been a topic of discussion for years. The route being discussed by oil companies would run from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks in parallel with the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, and then veer off to follow the Alaska Highway down through Alberta, Canada, and end in Chicago.

Blackhawk visit to Juneau rescheduled

JUNEAU - Today's scheduled visit of a Blackhawk helicopter to Floyd Dryden Middle School has been postponed by one week, principal Tom Milliron said Monday night. The chopper is due to land on Adair-Kennedy Memorial field at about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 15 to allow the National Guard crew to deliver an anti-drug message to Floyd Dryden students.

Douglas Golf Course may be OK'd tonight

JUNEAU - The Juneau Planning Commission is expected to render a decision on whether to grant a conditional use permit for the controversial Totem Creek Golf Course, slated for 13-mile North Douglas Highway, at its regularly scheduled meeting tonight.

The city Community Development Department has recommended the golf course get its permit. Totem Creek Inc., the nonprofit group developing the proposed 400-acre, 18-hole course, applied for the permit in 1997. The course has been controversial since the early 1980s when the first designs were drafted.

If the course is approved, it will go to the Juneau Assembly for final project approval.

The meeting will be held at 7 tonight in the Assembly Chambers at City Hall and is the only item on the agenda.

Wildlife Society chapter meets in Juneau

JUNEAU - Goshawks, caribou and wolves will be among the topics highlighted Wednesday morning at the annual meeting of the Alaska Chapter of the Wildlife Society.

The public can attend the presentations at the Juneau Elks Lodge, 109 South Franklin St. The conference begins at 8:30 a.m. The morning session will include seven papers covering a variety of wildlife research and management issues, presented by some of the state's leading wildlife biologists.

The Wildlife Society is a national professional organization for wildlife biologists.

"These scientists are highly respected and well known in wildlife circles," said Matt Kirchhoff, a Juneau biologist who helped organize the conference.

Fairbanks biologist and longtime University of Alaska wildlife professor David Klein, an expert on caribou, musk ox and other large animals in Arctic ecosystems, will speak at 8:45 a.m. on "Wildlife Management in an Alaskan Climate of Change."

"He'll be talking about climate change and political climate change - how wildlife and wildlife biologists both must adapt to changing environments," Kirchhoff said.

Juneau biologist Kim Titus will follow at 9:15 a.m. with a look at 10 years of research on Northern goshawks in Southeast Alaska. Presentations on caribou ecology, sexual segregation of ungulates, wolves in Denali and impacts of human use on wildlife in Prince William Sound will fill out the morning.

For more information, contact Alaska Chapter President Doug Larsen at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 465-5277.

Federal panel approves Alaska crab plan

ANCHORAGE - A federal panel has approved the finishing touches on a plan to divide up Alaska's crab fisheries, allocating the amount fishermen may harvest and processors may process.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council on Saturday approved final recommendations on how prices will be negotiated under the so-called crab rationalization plan, said Dave Benton, chairman of the federal panel. The recommendations also address ways to protect the economies of coastal communities.

Benton said Monday that the panel's action are to insure that independent harvesters of crab have maximum leverage in negotiating with processors.

"We have adopted a whole sweep of community protection measures and measures to insure that the relationship between processors and harvesters lead to fair negotiations for price," Benton said.

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