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SitNews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska
June 05, 2017

Front Page Feature Photo By DOUG BURKMAN

Taken on Brown Mountain Road about 2/3 of the way to Dude Mountain Trailhead. The shot was taken looking east south east toward Upper Mohoney Lake which is on the other side of Mahoney Mountain at the right hand side of the photo. The photo was taken at 12:49 am May 28, 2017 shortly before the peak of the Aurora storm activity.
Front Page Feature Photo By DOUG BURKMAN ©2017

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Alaska: Governor's Compromise: Senate’s education head tax; $1,000 PFD; End oil & gas subsidies; Motor fuels tax; House’s operating budget; Governor’s capital budget By MARY KAUFFMAN - In an effort to resolve the current legislative stalemate that threatens to shut down government services on July 1st, Governor Bill Walker today introduced to members of all four caucuses a compromise fiscal package.

“I will be the first to admit that this package will not please everyone,” Governor Walker said. “In fact, there are pieces I don’t like. But we must all give a little to ensure a viable plan is in place well before July 1. Otherwise, government services - like issuing fishing permits, continuing ferry runs and addressing consumer protection issues - will be shut down. Alaskans deserve to have their elected officials come together in true compromise. This session cannot be determined by whose caucus won, otherwise all Alaskans will lose. We must pull together to end the uncertainty that hangs over classrooms, families and our future.”

According to a news release from the Governor, the proposed package will stabilize the economy using bills that have already been introduced and considered and the state gets a level of fiscal stability but must continue significant spending restraint.

“Last year, we had a deficit of at least $3.7 billion, and with this compromise, we will have a $300 million shortfall,” Governor Walker said. “All of the tools necessary to address this fiscal crisis are currently on the table. This compromise averts a shutdown in government services, provides greater long-term revenue stability and creates a foundation upon which we can build our future. There is no reason the legislature cannot reach a compromise within the next 10 days.”

The Alaska Senate gets its version of SB 26, close to the house version HB 111 and is able to make larger payments to the oil and gas industry for tax credits. But the Senate has to concede a modest broad-based tax structure and adopt the Alaska House’s operating budget.  Under the Governor's compromise proposal, the Alaska House is a big winner being assured a status-quo operating budget.

The Governor is also proposing the broad-based tax structure of Senate Bill 12, another form of an income tax. SB 12 would impose a limited educational facilities, maintenance, and construction tax on net earnings from self-employment and wages; relating to the administration and enforcement of the educational facilities, maintenance and construction tax.

While the $100 million in projected revenue from S.B. 12 would be directed to K-12 schools, the Alaska Constitution does not allow funds to permanently dedicate funds for a specific purpose, meaning the money generated from the tax could actually go to pay for anything if future legislatures decide that is necessary.

The Governor's compromise includes the end of cashable oil and gas credits.  In return, the House must accept a smaller dividend, meaning Alaskans would see a smaller dividend of $1,000 rather than the $1,250 proposed by House Democrats (Majority Coalition). The House must also accept less revenue and progressivity, and limited oil and gas reform.

S.B. 12, another form of an income tax, will tax wages and net earnings from self-employment of every resident; and nonresident and part-year resident with income from a source in the state.

Earnings and Tax:

(1) less than $20,000, the tax is $50 a year;
(2) $20,000 or more, but less than $50,000, the tax is $100 a year;
(3) $50,000 or more, but less than $100,000, the tax is $200 a year;
(4) $100,000 or more, but less than $500,000, the tax is $300 a year;
(5) $500,000 or more, the tax is $500 a year.

An employer will deduct and withhold one half of the estimated taxes due from an employee's wages from each of the first two regular payrolls of the calendar year. If the employee's first two payrolls are insufficient to cover the estimated tax due, the employer will continue to deduct and withhold from subsequent payrolls until the tax due to the state is fully withheld.

Self-employed will be responsible for paying their own taxes.

Motor Fuels Tax: Alaska’s base excise tax rate on gasoline and diesel fuel is 8 cents per gallon, with local sales taxes and the state’s spill prevention tax bringing the statewide average rate to 12.25 cents for gasoline and 12.75 cents for diesel fuel. The proposed tax rate increase would bring that amount to 28,25 cents for gasoline and 28.75 cents for diesel fuel. The Governor's compromise proposes either version House Bill 60 or Senate Bill 25. - More...
Monday PM - June 05, 2017

Fish Factor:
Growth in the Mariculture Industry in Alaska By LAINE WELCH = Home grown shellfish and kelp are gaining momentum in Alaska, spurred on by growing markets and the steadfast push by Governor Walker’s visionary mariculture task force.

Applications for more than 1,000 acres of oyster and kelp farms were filed with the Department of Natural Resources by the April 30 deadline, far more than usual. Fifteen are for new farms in the Southeast, Southcentral and Westward regions of which seven plan to grow kelp exclusively. Two farms at Klawok also are adding kelp to their current oyster growing operations. 

“These permit applications are an indicator that there is developing interest and growth in the mariculture industry in Alaska,” said Linda Mattson with the Dept. of Commerce, Community and Economic Development upon announcing the numbers. 

Along with other state agencies, DCCED is an active part of the 11 member Alaska Mariculture Task Force established by an Administrative Order in 2016. The group’s mission is to provide Governor Walker with a comprehensive report for statewide mariculture expansion by March 1 of next year.  Walker believes mariculture of shellfish and seaweeds is a viable means to diversify the economy and provide a $1 billion economy within 30 years.

“The timing is right,” said task force co-chair Julie Decker of Wrangell. “It’s exciting that many of the applicants are young Alaska fishermen who are planning to have kelp be an adjunct to help diversify their fishing portfolio. Plus, shellfish are filter feeders and clean the waters and seaweed are a carbon sink and also produce really healthy products. I think we’re on a good path.”

For existing aquatic farmers who are growing shellfish, kelp can provide them with a ready cash flow while they are waiting for up to three years for their bivalve crops to ripen. 

“Kelp only take about 90 days to grow so you can stagger your plantings and lengthen your seasons,” Decker added. 

Latest data from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game show that 54 aquatic farms, seven shellfish nurseries and two shellfish hatcheries are operating in Alaska, primarily growing Pacific oysters, with sales topping $1 million in 2014 and 2015. Production in 2015 of 10.6 million oysters fetched an average price of $9.84 per dozen, up $0.24 (2.5 percent) from 2014. 

“If just three-tenths of a percent of Alaska’s 35,000 miles of coastline was developed for oysters,” Decker said, “it could produce 1.3 billion oysters at 80 cents adding up to over $1 billion a year!” 

For blue mussels, production in 2015 showed a 74 percent increase to 16,688 pounds with a value of $5.27 per pound (down $0.47 from 2014) for a total of $70,800.

In terms of the fledgling kelp industry, a first 15,000 pound harvest last month on a one acre plot at Kodiak owned by Nick and Stephanie Mangini paid out at roughly $10,000. Their business, Kodiak Island Sustainable Seaweed (KISS), plans to expand to 17 acres by next year. - More...
Monday PM - June 05, 2017


UA Board of Regents discusses FY18 budget and enrollment strategies - The University of Alaska Board of Regents used its June meeting in Fairbanks to address the options for the university’s FY18 operating budget and agreed to reconvene later this month when the state budget is finalized by the legislature. The board also was briefed on enrollment strategies at UA’s three universities and on statewide higher education systems.

UA President Jim Johnsen presented budget scenarios, noting that UA must remain flexible in its budget preparation to adapt to a still undetermined FY18 appropriation. The legislature has yet to pass a state operating or capital budget, prompting university officials to develop plans ranging from $325 million unrestricted general funds (UGF) to $303 million UGF. UA has taken significant general fund cuts to its operating budget over the past three years, totaling $53 million. The reduction has led to downsized services and a loss of 933 employees statewide. The university still plans to prioritize and invest in strategic areas, including enrollment marketing and advertising, research, workforce development (e.g. nursing and teacher preparation), online program development and process automation. These focus areas are intended to strengthen the university’s academic programs and student services, diversify revenues and reduce long term costs.

Regents expressed concern about a continually unpredictable budget process and the effect reductions have had on the university community.

“We’ve actually lost 933 people, and that means there are fewer employees in the workforce and not buying groceries in the grocery store. There are local businesses struggling because of loss of employees here. There’s a real ripple effect in the community,” said Regent John Davies.

“Every time I look at that (workforce reduction) number and it’s increasing, it’s just devastating to me that UA has 933 fewer employees than two years ago. That’s a shocking number to me. It just tells our story in so many ways about what we are having to do – one person is having to do two jobs now, maybe more, as a result of our budget decrements,” said Regent Jo Heckman.

With regard to a “no budget” scenario, Johnsen said, "We are monitoring the state's progress very carefully, including guidance we receive from the state Office of Management and Budget. However, no decision about furloughs has been made. If we do find ourselves without an operating budget in the weeks ahead, I will consult with the Board of Regents and we will use our best efforts to maintain critical operations and services to our students and our communities."- More...
Monday PM - June 05, 2017

Vigor Alaska operates the Ketchikan Shipyard
Photo courtesy Vigor Alaska

Alaska: Tustumena's Return to Service Further Delayed - The Alaska Marine Highway System announced today that more wasted steel was discovered in the engine room of the M/V Tustumena and repairs will require additional time at the Vigor Ketchikan Shipyard.

The Tustumena went in for its scheduled annual overhaul on March 13 and was originally scheduled to return to service on May 27. In early May, damaged steel was discovered in the engine room and the Tustumena’s return to service was initially pushed back to July 18. With this recent discovery of additional wasted steel, AMHS anticipates United States Coast Guard approval for the Tustumena’s return to service departing Homer at 5 p.m., Monday, August 15.

This delay impacts communities in Southwest Alaska and along the Aleutian chain. Usually, there are 10 trips scheduled along the Aleutian chain each year. Because of these delays, there will now be three remaining trips this year, with the first chain trip commencing on August 22.

The Tustumena is 53-years-old. A replacement vessel has been designed, but is awaiting construction funding in the pending fiscal year 2018 capital budget. AMHS staff is contacting affected passengers. - More...
Monday PM - June 05, 2017




DAVE KIFFER: Catfood Gravity: It's not just a good idea, it's the law - It is a rainy day in Ketchikan.

Yeah, I know that is redundant.

We live in a rainforest, not a sunforest. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

But that means that the birds that flock to the seeds on our deck are busy elsewhere where it is not raining. They pretty much fly 10 miles north or south of Ketchikan, where it is not raining.

It makes you wonder why we have decided to settle in the wettest place around. Elsewhere - even in Alaska - it is summer. Heck, even in the southern hemisphere it is probably more summery than it is here right now.

It's funny because even on this island there are places where the weather is less inclement. Even on the other side of Gravina. Probably on the other side of Pennock. Probably on the other side of the Bar Harbor Breakwater.

But no, we chose to live here, in this spot, in this sun deprived realm.

This place where "Ketchikan" is a Tlingit word that means "place you don't want to live year-round."

Actually, that's not true. But in this world of alternate facts it has a certain "truthy" ring to it. - More...
Monday PM - June 05, 2017


CHRISTINE FLOWERS: Can We Start Showing Some Respect for Melania? - Michelle Obama was a very good first lady. To some, she was one of the best. She should be remembered fondly, even by those who did not vote for her husband.

I only wish that the people on the other side of the political aisle would reach across the divide and say some positive things about Melania Trump. I also wish chocolate flowed in rivers and lollipops cropped up in my garden, that gold dripped in lacy threads like moss from the trees and every day was a paid holiday.

Which is to say, I hope for miracles. Indeed, that is what it would take for the average Democrat or progressive to say something nice about our new first lady. It is impossible these days to hear her discussed without the words being squeezed through a scrim of sarcasm, stripped of any sense of empathy or admiration. Melania is either the butt of some very mean-spirited jokes, or vilified as a gold-digging prostitute who has a problem keeping her clothes on her lissome body.

For some people, mostly the sort of women who wear pink crochet hats in their Facebook profile photos and wept bitter tears when the glass ceiling turned out to be made of Lucite, Melania is not worthy of sisterly respect, and they look at her with an underlying tone of disdain at the thought that a Slovenian model is replacing the earth mother of the vegetable garden. - More...
Monday PM - June 05, 2017

jpg Editorial Cartoon: Trump Leaks

Editorial Cartoon: Trump Leaks
By Rick McKee ©2017, The Augusta Chronicle
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.


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letter Understanding the Legislative Standoff: The House Plan Versus the Senate Plan By Ghert Abbott - The best way to understand the reasons behind the current legislative standoff is to examine the House Majority’s fiscal plan and the Senate Majority’s fiscal plan side by side, in order to determine their respective goals and values. - More...
Monday PM - June 05, 2017

letter State Shutdown By Lance Clark - So now Governor Walker and the Alaska House Majority Coalition are saying if we can't have an income tax, i.e. our money, they'll shut down the state. All I can say is I hope they never get elected for anything anywhere ever again. - More...
Friday PM - June 02, 2017

letter The Solution is in the Non-Partisan Middle By Rep. Dan Ortiz - As of June 1st, the Alaska State Legislature is in the middle of the “special session” called by Governor Bill Walker. The Governor called us into special session because we reached the end of the 121st day of regular legislative session without fulfilling our one required legislative duty – to pass a state operating and capital budget out of both the House and the Senate for the Governor’s signature. The two bodies are currently at odds and at nearly a standstill over the issue of establishing a fiscal plan. So far, there has been no compromise to find the middle ground. - More...
Friday PM - June 02, 2017

letter Boy Scouts Camporee By Drace Mattson - I got to go on a campout with three Boy Scout troops and it was really fun. We had a smoked pig and cooking challenges. There were lots of fun challenges for us to compete in. - More...
Tuesday PM - May 30, 2017

letter Thank the Republican Party By Norbert Chaudhary - I'd like to personally thank Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan as well as Congressman Don Young for their unwavering and unquestioning support of President Donald Trump. - More...
Tuesday PM - May 30, 2017

letter Permanent Fund By Norma Lankerd - Just FYI, I'm born in ALaska, received every permanent dividend since it was established when Governor Jay Hammond got it all set up. - More...
Tuesday PM - May 30, 2017

letter European Immigrant Problems By Donald Moskowitz - A truck assault in Berlin Germany is one of many problems Germany is experiencing with 1 million Middle East and North African immigrants, mostly young males, who are committing murders, robberies and assaults on German Christians and Jews, especially women; and Chancellor Merkel wants to take in another 1 million. The German interior minister said German citizens with dual nationalities who are terrorists and/or a threat to national security should be deported.- More...
Tuesday PM - May 30, 2017

letter Beauty is Everywhere By Judith Green - This is a BIG thank you to Jillian Pollock for a fantastic school music program! Ms Jillian, as her students call her, is an exceptional music teacher and we are indeed fortunate to have her talent and positive upbeat person in our community and school district. As well, the support she receives from all the Houghtaling staff personnel including the principal Dave Jones, is so appreciated and does not go unnoticed. - More...
Wednesday PM - May 24, 2017

letter Alaska Forest Fund By Rep. Dan Ortiz - Southeast Alaska’s beautiful scenery, abundant recreation facilities and pristine wilderness make us proud to call this land our home. We know our lands need regular beach clean-ups, invasive species must be pulled, and trails should be maintained for maximum safety and enjoyment. We also know our vast public lands are a prime resource for wilderness skills training, seasonal employment, and youth education. - More...
Wednesday PM - May 24, 2017

letter Climate Change By Victoria McDonald - Climate change is an issue that directly involves Alaska. In Southeast, ocean acidification is increasing, so not only are crustaceans such as crab and shrimp less able to form shells, but pink salmon that rely on pteropods, a shelled mollusk, will lose an important food source. The lack of food for salmon has potentially disastrous effects on our fish-reliant lifestyle. Tongass Conservation Society, TCS, will be urging our borough to adopt a policy to decrease greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). We can align ourselves with Juneau’s Climate Change Policy of 2011, that advocates for reduced GHG. - More...
Sunday PM - May 21, 2007

letter Oil Tax Credits By Rep. Dan Ortiz - What are the priorities of Alaskans? Does our budget reflect those priorities? - More...
Thursday PM - May 18, 2017

letter Oil Tax Credits By John Suter - Kudos to the Alaska State Senate for holding out on the one billion dollars owed to oil firms in subsides.  The millionaires and billionaires in the lower 48 who own these oil firms are having hard times too and their need for this money outweighs any needs the state may have for this money.  Education and public safety could not possibly be as important as the needs of the millionaires and the billionaires.  - More...
Thursday PM - May 18, 2017

letter High time to do the right thing By Vince Beltrami - As the Executive President of the Alaska AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor organization, I have watched our number of members drop by 3,000 in the last year and a half. In that same time frame, Alaska has lost around 9,000 jobs, so about a third of those jobs came from our ranks. They are evenly split between public sector and private sector workers, in nearly every field imaginable, all around the state. - More...
Friday PM - May 12, 2017

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“Hundreds of Alaskans have reached out to my administration saying health care costs are increasingly unaffordable,” Governor Walker said. “This law will provide relief from large premium hikes for

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