State Briefs

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Waterfront plan meetings start next week

JUNEAU - Consultants working on a long-range waterfront plan for Juneau are asking for public input.

In December, the city selected Bermello, Ajamil and Partners, a Miami-based engineering and planning firm, to put together a long-range waterfront plan for downtown. The project will cover an area from the Douglas Bridge to the little rock dump.

The first public meetings on the plan are scheduled April 23 at the Aspen Hotel and April 24 at Centennial Hall. The meetings will be from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Deputy Project Manager Ann Campbell of Aurora Consulting in Anchorage said participants will be asked for "big picture" views of the waterfront and about specific ideas or projects.

Additional public meetings are scheduled for May and June to generate and evaluate alternatives for waterfront development. The plan will be presented to the community in July, she said.

More information about the waterfront plan will be available on the city's Web site at during the next few months. People also can call the project information line at 586-2994.

JDHS musical opens tonight

JUNEAU - The Juneau-Douglas High School spring musical "Damn Yankees" opens at 7 tonight at the JDHS auditorium. The musical will play at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 17-19. A matinee is at 1 p.m. Saturday.

"Damn Yankees" is about a baseball fan who sells his soul to the devil to help his favorite team, the Washington Senators, win the pennant.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students in advance at Hearthside Books, or $12 at the door.

For a full article about "Damn Yankees," see Friday's This Week section.

Permafund trustees push for change

ANCHORAGE - Alaska Permanent Fund trustees are working on a proposed constitutional amendment that would cause a major change in how money is spent from the state's $23 billion oil wealth savings account.

The amendment would limit total annual spending to no more than 5 percent of total fund value. That percentage would provide enough annually to pay dividends, give the Legislature extra millions to spend on government and pad the fund against inflation, according to trustees and fund staffers.

Meanwhile, the fund likely would continue to get bigger because the fund's investments are projected to be greater than 5 percent over the long term.

As it stands, most of the fund - the principal - can only be invested, not spent. But the investment profits are spent, largely to pay the annual dividends and to keep the fund's value up with inflation.

"Almost everybody who's studied it would logically conclude that it's a good idea," trustee Steve Frank said.

Under the proposed amendment, voters would have the opportunity to remove the distinction between principal and fund investment profits.

House bill pushes gambling as budget savior

ANCHORAGE - Legislation is moving through the state House to expand Alaska gambling as a way to help balance the budget.

The bill calls for a lottery and electronic games such as video poker, keno and blackjack. Alaska gambling now is mostly limited to bingo and pull-tabs.

The state would take a cut of the proceeds, along with bars, clubs and charities.

Supporters include House Speaker Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican, who has made the bill a personal priority and put his staff to work on it. Opponents argue expanded gambling would be socially destructive.

The state lottery and electronic gambling are the latest proposals for trying to fill the state's huge budget shortfall.

The bill's proponents hope Alaska joins 25 other states that already are part of the giant Powerball lottery system, in which people buy a ticket for $1 for the extremely remote chance of ending up a millionaire. Kott envisions some kind of catchy name, like Gold Rush Powerball, and lottery terminals set up on cruise ships and state ferries so tourists will participate.

Some estimate a lottery could bring in $40 million to 10 million a year.

House Bill 240 has passed in one committee and is scheduled for a 7 a.m. hearing today at the House Special Ways and Means Committee.

Republican House Majority Leader Rep. John Coghill of North Pole objects on moral grounds to taking money from people through gambling.

"I think it's absolutely wrong for us to try to bring balance into our budget with worse public policy," he said. "Gambling will never get my vote."

House approves closed meeting provision

JUNEAU - The Legislature could go behind closed doors to talk about homeland security concerns under a measure passed in the House on Monday.

House Concurrent Resolution 7 adds homeland security to the list of reasons lawmakers may meet in executive session. Under provisions of the measure, lawmakers may meet behind closed doors to talk about issues affecting the security of the state, nation or a governmental agency.

Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, a Juneau Republican and sponsor of the measure, said lawmakers don't expect to invoke the rule often allowing for closed meetings to talk about security concerns.

The Legislature can meet in executive session to discuss sensitive financial issues, personnel matters and a myriad of other topics deemed classified in statute or regulations.

Homeland security was of particular concern in Alaska since the state's trans-Alaska pipeline provides about 17 percent of the nation's domestic oil supply The measure passed 36-0 and goes to the Senate for consideration.

Sen. Murkowski gets ethanol exemption for Alaska

FAIRBANKS - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has convinced an energy committee to exempt Alaska and Hawaii from a proposed nationwide requirement that refineries add ethanol to gasoline.

The U.S. Senate Energy and Public Works Committee approved Murkowski's exemption last week as part of a proposed revision of the nation's Clean Air Act.

The committee bill would require refiners to put 5 billion gallons of ethanol in the nation's gasoline supply annually by 2012. The nation uses about 1.7 billion gallons now.

While ethanol can reduce production of carbon monoxide, the main goal is to boost usage of a domestic, renewable fuel, according to Michael Catanzaro, spokesman for committee Republicans.

However, Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said the ethanol requirement would make Alaska gas more expensive by 2 to 5 cents per gallon. And she said it is impractical, given the state's remoteness, to add ethanol.

The bill now goes to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where it will likely be added to a national energy policy bill expected to come to the Senate floor in May.

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