AKLEG Recap, Day 77: Walker seeks to shift money from ANWR study to 911 system

(Photo by Carole Triem)

The House has finally, mercifully passed the operating budget after two weeks on the House floor. It’s the latest the operating budget has ever passed the House since the implementation of the 90-day session. Here’s some other things that happened and what to look forward to.

Just 13 days remain.

Walker changes plans for oil study money

Gov. Bill Walker had earmarked about $10 million for initial seismic study tests in the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That money was never really enough for an exhaustive study of the area, and Walker has other plans for the money. He’s proposing shifting $8.3 million of that money along with re-allocations of other existing funds to pay for an enhanced 9-1-1 call center for Alaska.

The proposed program would specifically benefit rural Alaska, where some callers horrifyingly have to call a 1-800 number (and it’s not always the same 1-800 number) to contact emergency responders. The upgraded system would also allow 9-1-1 responders to better pinpoint the location of a caller.

The remaining money from the scrapped seismic plan would “be split between the Department of Revenue and the Department of Natural Resources to speed legal and financial due diligence as it relates to the state’s best interest in the Alaska LNG project.”

As far as the fate of the seismic data, Walker’s letter to the House and Senate finance committee co-chairs says “These funds are not needed for seismic work at this time.”

Senate bill clears Native corporations of liability for pre-contaminated lands

The Senate passed Sen. Lyman Hoffman’s House Bill 202 on Monday. The legislation clears Alaska Native corporations of liability for contamination occurring on lands conveyed through ANCSA as long as the corporations can prove the contamination occurred before they took ownership of the land.

Alaska Native corporations won rights to 44 million acres of land through ANCSA. Some of that land was conveyed to the corporations without the feds disclosing whether or not they had already been contaminated. The full scope of that contamination didn’t become clear for decades later with some 650 contaminated sites being identified in a 1998 report to Congress. A 2016 report found that 537 of those sites still needed clean up.

The bill passed the Senate with an 18-0 vote. Both Sens. Pete Kelly and Donny Olson were excused.

Walker congratulates the House for passing a budget

You don’t always see the governor thanking the Legislature for doing its job, but then again you don’t always see it take two weeks for a chamber to pass the operating budget.

“I commend the House for passing an operating budget that protects the necessary government services Alaskans rely on, and I look forward to working with lawmakers as the budget process now moves into the Senate. All sides agree it is necessary to tap the earnings reserve of the Permanent Fund to help pay for government moving forward. It is essential that the first draw from the Permanent Fund in history is structured, sustainable, and protects the future of the dividend program.”

52,655

That’s how many ballots have been returned to the Anchorage elections by mail as of 5 p.m. yesterday. That’s 91.5 percent of the turnout the municipality saw during the last mayoral election (meaning the turnout should be smashed by the end of today). Ballots can still be mailed today as long as they get today’s postmark or dropped off at one of the many locations around the area. There’ll also be in-person voting available today.

Despite a few snags and plenty of conservative detractors, Anchorage’s vote-by-mail system seems to be a success (as long as your goal is higher turnout). And it wouldn’t be surprising that efforts to bring a vote-by-mail system statewide materializes over the next few years.

What we’re reading:

  • If you’re a cannabis business renting a building make sure Wells Fargo isn’t involved. An Anchorage marijuana testing facility is shutting down at the end of this month (and looking for a new place to relocate to) because Wells Fargo refuses to do business in any way with marijuana businesses. The closure isn’t expected to be a big hit on Alaska’s marijuana businesses. Read: Wells Fargo forces closure of Alaska marijuana lab via Juneau Empire.
  • Short-time White House communications director Mike Dubke has a new job helping pitch Alaska’s natural gas project. Read:
    Alaska gasline project signs a DC insider via Alaska Public Media.

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