Alaska Digest

Staff and Wire reports

Posted: Friday, May 26, 2006

Governor signs school funding bill

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JUNEAU - Alaska public schools will enjoy an infusion of cash next year under a bill that is now law.

The measure was among several signed Thursday by Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Originally sponsored as a school construction debt reimbursement bill by Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, the measure grew into a patchwork of proposals from the governor and other lawmakers.

It boosts the base student allocation from $4,919 to $5,380 per student for a total of $96 million in new money.

It doles out a one-time appropriation of $35 million, to be divvied up under a formula that is more favorable to rural schools than the current distribution.

It extends an existing program that reimburses up to 70 percent of the debt that municipalities incur when they bond to build, repair or renovate schools.

Also, the measure establishes a teacher and school staff incentive program for the next three years. The bill authorizes annual payouts for up to 850 teachers and other school staff.

Alaskans among tops in lobbyists' dollars

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's small, but powerful all-Republican congressional delegation receives more lobbyist donations per lawmaker than any other state's, a new report says.

Two members of the delegation - both who held or hold powerful positions in Congress - placed high for contributions, according to the to the government watchdog group Public Citizen

The report says lobbyists have contributed $663,000 to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens' campaign and his political action committee, placing him No. 10 for most donations between 1998-2006, the eight years studied in the report.

U.S. Rep. Don Young placed No. 10 among House members for most donations with $652,448, according to the report.

Stevens was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Young is chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Lobbyists gave almost $275,000 to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the final member of Alaska's congressional delegation. That placed her at No. 56 in the Senate for most donations.

Oklahoma man convicted of murder

KENAI - A Kenai jury took just four hours to convict an Oklahoma man of a 21-year-old murder.

Barry McCormack, 55, who once lived in Soldotna, was found guilty Wednesday of shooting Opal Fairchild, 65, to death in her home on March 20, 1985, in what authorities believe was a robbery attempt.

"It's just a shame we can't do away with him the same way my mother-in-law was done away with," said Alice Fairchild, Opal Fairchild's daughter-in-law. "Alaska needs the death penalty."

Fairchild was born in Oklahoma and her family had been on the Kenai Peninsula since 1962, according to a 2004 Anchorage Daily News interview with daughter Nancy Wilken. She was an independent woman who ran a mini mart and later Opal's Deli on Kalifornsky Beach Road until retiring in 1981, Wilken said.

McCormack, working as a truck driver in Oklahoma, was arrested in 2003 by the cold case unit of the Alaska State Troopers after he was linked to other crimes.

Troopers investigating the murder scene found fingerprints on papers in Fairchild's home but could not identify them. In 2000, troopers ran the fingerprints again and obtained a match in an enlarged database. McCormack's fingerprints were taken 1991 when he applied to become a school bus driver, troopers said.

The computer also matched his prints to the scene of a wood stove shop robbery the week before Fairchild was killed. The owner, Mel Anderson, was shot in the back of the head and nearly killed.

Assistant District Attorney Scot Leaders said the motive behind each of the crimes - money, and a desire to leave no witnesses - was also the same.

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