Rural energy aid included in bill

$3.3 million for power cost equalization; bulk fuel reduced to $250,000

Posted: Thursday, April 13, 2006

Energy aid for rural Alaskans will be included in a compromise spending bill.

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A House and Senate conference committee on Wednesday agreed to the compromise on this year's supplemental budget.

The Senate's version of the spending package had cut all rural energy aid, while the House's bill included $3.3 million for the state's Power Cost Equalization program, which is meant to account for the higher energy costs in rural Alaska, and $500,000 for bulk-fuel loans to rural communities.

In the compromise bill, the $3.3 million was left in for power cost equalization while the bulk-fuel money was reduced to $250,000.

Also, the House's $500,000 appropriation for the Arctic Winter Games was reduced to $430,000.

The conference committee report was adopted by the House 33-0 Wednesday afternoon. The Senate also must approve the report before it goes to Gov. Frank Murkowski for his signature.

Senate and House Republicans have fought other attempts to boost rural energy aid in the supplemental budget, saying that they would have represented new or expanded programs that would have been difficult to sustain in leaner times.

The spending bill is meant to cover the unexpected costs of state government that were incurred this year, such as the high fuel prices that caused the state ferry system to ask for an additional $12.8 million.

Also included in the bill is $3.75 million in appropriations to two groups to lobby Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Of that money, $750,000 will go to Arctic Power to lobby congressmen directly in Washington, D.C. The other $3 million will go to an Oregon public-relations firm called Pac/West Communications, which will target the voters in individual congressmen's districts with ANWR marketing campaigns.

The total spending package that will come out of the committee will total more than $700 million. Of that, $600 million of the state's $1.4 billion surplus will merely be shifted to the state's public education fund and the Alaska Housing Finance Corp.

That money could be used for future public-school funding and undefined public works projects.

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