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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
Governor Parnell says he has three main priorities for the legislative session that started yesterday in Juneau: education, the gas line and the unfunded Pers/Ters pension fund liability.
Parnell told APRN’s Lori Townsend, the budget will be tight this year, but Alaskans have been through this before.
After years of surpluses, Alaska is now facing a $2 billion shortfall. The state is expecting to draw on a substantial amount of savings. Under your leadership, capital budgets have grown. What would you propose now for revisiting that and reining those expenses in?
Gov. Parnell – Well, Alaskans will remember that we’ve been here before. Because our budget is dependent upon oil revenues, and the price of oil goes up and down, historically, we’ve always used those savings to buffer those lower-price times. That’s the situation we’re in right now. So, we need to be restrained and we need to be prudent about those investments we make – we want to make them count. So, we’re gonna focus on those constitutional priorities; we’re gonna focus on education, on public safety, on transportation. But, we’re also gonna work at the systemic, to make those systemic changes so that our kids, down the road, don’t have their education budget squeezed by an unfunded pension liability payment like we do today. So, instead of paying $1.1 billion to fund that pension liability obligation some years from now, I’m gonna propose a way forward where they’re paying $500 million in those years ahead. So, it’s about keeping our eye on the future, but making those important investments for today.
The new gas line agreement you recently signed has the state taking an equity share in the pipeline. You’ve talked about this as a new idea, but when we look back to the days of Governor Murkowski’s administration, there were similar ideas. What makes this deal different from that proposal?
Gov. Parnell – Quite a few things are different in this proposal. But, I do believe, fundamentally, like many governors before me that Alaska can better control its destiny and better own its destiny if we own a stake in this gas line. What’s different this time is that there will be more public process, more transparency to it, so instead of having one legislative session where the fiscal deal is done at once, billions of dollars are put at risk at once, we move through stage gates, or phases of this project just like companies do all the time. So, for example, the next 18 months – what is known as pre-feed, the pre-front-end engineering and design work – that’s what these agreements address. It allows us to move forward in an aligned fashion on a gas line, but only through that first stage. Once that pre-feed stage is done, we come back to the legislature, show what’s gone before, show the new agreements that have been negotiated for the next stage – known as feed – get approval and the legislature’s commitment after a public process. So, one of the key things that’s different this time is the openness and transparency of the process and the less risk to Alaskans along the way.
You’ve hinted at an education proposal that would be more supportive of expanding the charter school system. How does that help communities off the road system?
Gov. Parnell – Well, because any time you put money into the hands of parents or anytime you loosen the restrictions on charter school creation, that opens opportunities to parents in rural areas and in urban areas. There’s just no question. And in fact some of our charter schools are in the rural areas. So, the issue is really one of giving charter schools, which are part of the public school system, giving them and their students equal treatment with the rest of the public school system.
You graduated from East High in Anchorage. If you had young kids that were about the enter the Anchorage public school system, would you feel OK about their education, given the extensive cuts the district has made and will continue to make?
Gov. Parnell – That really is dependent upon each parent. And for our kids, we had our kids in both public schools during their K-12 grades and we had them in a private as well. So, we had that ability to choose. For somebody that doesn’t have that ability, I say we have to do better so that they have more opportunity as young people in our schools. And I think the question that you ask is a good one. It’s pretty tough to say that funding hasn’t been increased from the state – because it has – but I think we have to deal with the fundamental structure that we put money into and say, “are our kids getting value for the dollars we’re spending?” And in some cases I think they are, and in some cases they are not. That, again, is a huge debate that is going to be had here in the halls of the legislature and throughout the state as we move forward. I remain committed to making sure that our kids get the best education that we can provide. I’ve set a goal along with others across the for a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. We’ve made progress. In fact, our graduation rate I believe has improved the last three years or so. But we have a long ways to go to get to 90 percent. I want the discussion to be about, how do we get to that 90 percent graduation rate? It’s not just about how much money we can spend, it’s about how that money gets spent. And those are two sides of the equation that I intend to bring together in Juneau for the benefit of our kids.
When you rejected the Medicaid expansion, you said the state’s community health centers already are helping the population the expansion was intended to serve. But those clinics are really counting on increased funding from Medicaid expansion. Do you think the legislature should appropriate more community health center funding?
Gov. Parnell – One of my points in declining Medicaid expansion was that we weren’t fixing anything for Alaskans who are having to pay for the system. The working class Alaskans whose healthcare costs are going up, whose health policies are being cancelled, again it’s this argument of why are we putting more money in a system when there’s no perceived benefit, there’s no benefit that can be ascertained to the broad swath of Alaskans who are losing policies and paying more for health care. The dollars from a federal Medicaid expansion certainly help health care providers, but there’s little indication that for putting billions of dollars more into our system, that our kids and grandkids will pay for, that that actually has any other benefit than further increasing costs and laying the debt and burden on them. So, it was this balance of looking at the population that needs health care and health care coverage, looking at where they currently have access to that through the community health centers is one place. And seeing if we can’t better target the funds or channel the funds to where they’re needed instead of just a big outpouring, a big parachuting of federal dollars into the system. It didn’t make sense to me.
You recently sent out a mailer that says, “Alaskans are free from sexual violence” under your watch. In fact, the rate of sexual violence has gone up. Do you think your “Choose Respect” campaign is working?
Gov. Parnell – So, I don’t believe what you just said. You just said that sexual violence has gone up. Reported sexual violence has gone up. And I think that’s a distinction that really needs to be made. When we started the “Choose Respect” initiative, when that first survey came out that exposed all of Alaska to how the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault is in our state, I was cautioned by people that said, “Look, if you’re gonna take this on, the numbers are gonna go up in the first five years or so because you’re spotlighting an issue that people have kept hidden in the dark, and on one hand the victims and survivors feel guilt and shame and don’t report, but when we have 150 communities marching and other Alaskans standing courageously for those victims and survivors, more report because more have the courage gained from seeing their fellow Alaskans standing in front of them. So, yes, reported harm is up, but I also know just from the letters and correspondence I get and that the accounts I’ve heard in all the shelters, that following an event or leading up to a “Choose Respect” rally, just even the fact that a poster is put up in a village that says, “Join us for the ‘Choose Respect’ march,” will no longer be silent about domestic violence and sexual assault. That mere putting up of a poster, in one instance, caused a young woman to call and get the help she needs and get out of her violent situation. So, to me, that’s working. If together we can help one, and I know we’ve helped hundreds if not thousands, break that cycle –stand up and get the help they need, I look forward to a day when we’re not talking about the epidemic anymore. We’re still gonna be talking about the harm, but we’re not talking about this as an epidemic.
Having taken possession of the Big Timber Motel, the Municipality of Anchorage is working with social service groups to find new homes for the building's residents, including nine children.January 22, 2014
Several hundred Sterling residents could finally get hooked up to natural gas later this year.
Enstar is hoping to hook up an additional 750 lots later this summer, says the company’s Director of Business Development, John Sims.
“The pipeline itself, in Sterling, is going to be running south along Swanson River Road to Scout Lake Road, extending down Husky Street to the banks of the Kenai River.”
Enstar has submitted a plan to the Department of Natural Resources to install a plastic pipeline underneath the Kenai River at that point.
“It’s about a 1,000 foot bore underneath the Kenai River. And once we’re done with that, we look at installing about 13,000 feet of six-inch plastic (pipe) that will distribute gas to about 750 lots across the river.”
He says the plan is to be done with the project by August. Lot owners in the area are working to get special assessment districts drawn up.
“Currently the lot owners are working on two separate utility special assessment districts; one on the east side, one is on the west side after we’ve crossed the river. The east side USAD is about 10.5 miles of distribution pipe. And then on the west side is about another 10 miles.”
He says they plan on having the work under the Kenai completed before anglers hit the river.
Public comments are being accepted by the Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land and Water through February 10th.
The Department of Fish and Game is predicting another below-average year for king salmon returns on the Kenai River.
The department is forecasting a total run of a little less than 20,000 fish. If those numbers are correct, it will be the lowest return in the 29 years for which records are available on the Kenai, and less than half of the average-sized run over that same time period. That number still falls within the Department’s sustainable escapement goal of 15-30,000 fish.
This year’s forecast is lower than last year’s pre-season estimate, however, total run size is anticipated to be about the same as 2013. King returns to the Kenai the past couple years have come in later than expected. ADF&G Managers have indicated that they will be conservative in how they prosecute the Kenai River and related fisheries, as they continue to see weak returns.
Last year, Carmen Field was diagnosed with breast cancer on her 50th birthday. A year later, the experience has given her a chance to reflect on her life.January 22, 2014
“The Amish” is an intimate portrait of contemporary Amish faith and life. The film examines how such a closed and communal culture has thrived within one of the most open, individualistic societies on earth. What does the future hold for a community whose existence is so rooted in the past? And what does our fascination with the Amish say about deep American values?
- Tuesday, January 28 at 7:00 pm
- Tuesday, February 4 at 7:00 pm
Two men have been arraigned in Kodiak District Court following a drug seizure over the weekend.
Kodiak Police Chief Ronda Wallace said the drugs were seized during a search of two hotel rooms on Sunday and have an estimated street value of at least $120,000. She said the investigation began when police officers noticed suspicious behavior by two individuals in the downtown area on Sunday.
“After making contact with them it was later discovered that one of them was a probation parole absconder from Anchorage. And that prompted them to make contact again with them. And during that contact it was discovered some drug paraphernalia,” Wallace said. ”That prompted the officers to stop, apply for search warrants, which gave us access to two rooms because it was discovered during that little bit of investigatory time that there was two rooms with those two individuals. So they were able to execute search warrants on those rooms.”
The room searches yielded more than 76 grams of suspected black tar heroin, 28 grams of Afghan brown heroin, 10 grams of methamphetamine, 42 grams of crack cocaine, 6 grams of powder cocaine and what appeared to be the two men’s personal stash.Wallace said this is the first time the police department has seen Afghan brown heroin during a drug seizure in Kodiak.
She said Sunday’s arrest follows a recent trend of rising heroin use in Kodiak, and is one of the larger drug seizures the police department has encountered in terms of value.
“But this has been the largest seizure of all of this combined drugs with this amount of money valued to it. And it’s just; it’s disturbing the rise and the demand here in Kodiak that we’re seeing here in Kodiak for the drugs,” Wallace said. ”It’s becoming a lot. Our last year’s cases nearly doubled what we had the year before in terms of our drug cases, our drug investigations that we worked. So we’re seeing a rise in the demand.”
There is only one drug enforcement officer in the Kodiak Police Department and Wallace said they worked more than 650 drug investigations this past year. She said the rise in drug-related investigations has prompted an internal shift this year to add one more person the city’s drug unit.
Wallace said a problem the department has noticed is that outside sellers have recognized the demand for drugs in Kodiak and are coming to the island with supplies. She said that fits with Sunday’s arrests, seeing as one of the individuals was on probation in Anchorage and the other was from Missouri.
The drugs found over the weekend follows a different drug seizure last week, where 7 ounces of methamphetamine was found, with an estimated street value of about $26,000.
“We’ve got to do something and put more eyes on the street, along with a canine and start making some kind of impact. We’ve had an impact but the more we’re seeing it’s just, it’s incredible the rise. Kodiak has a problem and the Kodiak police department and our officers, they’re vigilant, but we can only see so much,” Wallace said. ”And people helping us by what they see and calling crime stoppers just aides us in our investigations. And there’s three ways people can do that, they can call in a tip, or they can text a tip or they can do a web tip for crime stoppers and we can use that information to again aide us in the investigations that we do.”
Wallace said the investigation from Sunday is ongoing.
Folks wanting to submit tips to crime stoppers can call the hotline at 486-3113 or text 4-8-6-TIP plus to your message to 274637.
Indigenous populations in Alaska and Australia may be vulnerable to influenza, particularly a recent form of bird flu.
Since the first break-out of H7N9 in China early last year, 150 people have been infected and 45 people have been killed. Two people died earlier this month. It’s called bird flu since people have obtained the virus from domesticated poultry.
Although there does not currently appear to be a sustainable person-to-person transmission of H7N9, scientists and health officials worry that will eventually happen with further mutations of the virus. That potential person-to-person transmission is what worries researchers like Katherine Kedzierska, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and laboratory group head at the University of Melbourne in Australia. She was also senior author of the study that was published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examined possible pre-existing cellular immunity among various human ethnic groups.
Kedzierska said indigenous populations in Alaska and Australia have been relatively isolated and have not had the exposure to various influenza viruses that were identified as circulating in Greece as early as two millennia ago.
She said their latest research provides some clues as to why mortality rates were so high among Alaska Natives during the 1918 influenza outbreak.
Link to published paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Preexisting CD8+ T-cell immunity to the H7N9 influenza A virus varies across ethnicities
Link to page of frequently asked questions about H7N9 influenza from the Centers for Disease Control: H7N9 FAQ
The Calista board of directors is putting the pieces together of the new regional committee.
The committee had a start in the 1980s, but it is getting new life this spring. Rural Alaska has no shortage of boards, committees, task forces, and panels. The Calista board has now created another committee, but this one’s membership and ambition are larger than most. They aim to lend a unified voice to native people of the delta, according to Robert Beans.
“You have a lot more clout politically and otherwise. That’s the impetus of why now. Our region in my estimation is really behind time, we have a senator and a representative but we need to go beyond that,” said Beans.
Robert Beans is originally from Mountain Village and sits on the Calista board of directors and is member of the committee. The committee will have a representative from each native government and village corporation. It adds non-profit representatives and Calista’s president. They plan to conduct a review of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Indian Reorganization Act. They will also develop a strategic plan to in their words – correct the deficiencies and negative effects associated with state and federal government actions.”
Thom Leonard is Communications manager for Calista. He notes that there are many groups that represent the region, but they work on a range of issues and concerns.
“If you’re able to gather together a region and connect those circles together you’re going to have a much more centralized and focused base to work off off. I think that’s a pretty neat visualization. If you think of the Olympic rings there’s some overlap in the rings, so that’s what we’re looking at here,” said Leonard.
The large regional committee will create a much smaller steering committee that will build strategic plan to obtain remedies from the government about decisions that they say have negatively impacted native people in the area. As an example of the challenges in the area, Beans points outs the region’s high suicide rate.
“That’s very unacceptable in my opinion. My son is one of those statistics and it drove the point home real close. One suicide is one too many. One domestic violence is one too many. One person without a job is one too many,” said Beans.
Leonard says a successful committee will take work from the entire region.
“We are looking for input we are looking to build on the history of when this regional committee was originally conceived and passed back in the 1980s by AVCP and hopefully working with the region put it in action,” said Leonard.
40 Tribes and Village Corps have registered so far. The board authorized a budget of 200 thousand dollars for work this year. The resolution passed by the board is posted at Calista’s website.