Local Briefs

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2001

Backers of wage increase say they're ready to submit petitions for ballot

JUNEAU - The group pushing a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage says it has enough signatures to get its ideas before voters next November.

The Alaska AFL-CIO has been pushing the measure, which would mandate an increase in the minimum wage from $5.65 hourly to $7.15. The group plans to deliver petitions with nearly 50,000 signatures to the Division of Elections today, Mano Frey of the labor group said in a statement.

The group backing an initiative to move legislative sessions to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough said Wednesday it has collected 35,000 signatures, but is aiming at 40,000 before it turns in the petitions.

Both petitions need 28,783 valid signatures to get on the ballot. The deadline is Jan. 14.

Unity Tree to be lit Friday at Centennial Hall

JUNEAU - Residents are invited to participate in the lighting of the Juneau "Unity Tree" at the Centennial Hall Courtyard at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Organizers hope to bring together Juneau residents and unite the town. Hot cider and candy canes will be available, and Santa will make a visit. A contest to guess the number of tree lights will start at the lighting and run through Dec. 23. The tree will be lit until Jan. 24, 2002, when the 2002 Olympic Torch is carried through Juneau.

The Unity Tree is sponsored by the city, Downtown Business Association, Juneau Area Chamber of Commerce, Alaska Electric Light and Power, U.S. Coast Guard, Juneau Gastineau Rotary Club, Glacier Gardens, Juneau-Douglas High School, the Juneau Empire, Princess Tours, Fred Meyer, Kmart and Copy Express.

New report tallies cost of substance abuse

JUNEAU - Substance abuse costs the Alaska economy more than half a billion dollars annually, according to a new report.

A study by The McDowell Group, a Juneau-based research and consulting firm, says there are $614 million in impacts from loss of worker productivity, traffic crashes, criminal cases, protective services, health care and public assistance.

"This is a staggering blow to Alaska's economy, communities and families," said Eric Tomasino of Palmer, chairman of the Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse under the state Department of Health and Human Services. The McDowell Group prepared the report for the board, which advises the governor and Legislature on substance abuse issues.

Alcohol accounts for $453 million in annual losses to the economy, with other drug abuse costs estimated at $161 million.

Half of the total economic impact, $319 million, is due to lost worker productivity through premature death, reduced efficiency of workers through mental or physical impairment, incarceration, or in-patient treatment and hospitalization, according to the report.

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