SWEET – Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School students Karmen Kane, right, and Sophia Stark make chocolate-dipped strawberries Wednesday night during the Keet Family Night. Hundreds attended the event, which included a chili dinner, activities and heart-shaped cookies. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Trump’s Budget Plan Slashes Denali Fund

    ANCHORAGE (AP) — The federal budget proposal by the Trump administration would cut an Alaska program that has helped improve farms, docks and other rural infrastructure.
    The $4.8 trillion budget plan released Monday called for the shutdown of the Denali Commission and two other agencies like it in the continental U.S.
    The Denali Commission is an independent federal agency that works with tribal, federal, state, and local partners to improve rural infrastructure and economic development. The commission has invested more than $1.2 billion in Alaska communities, according to its website.
    The proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 provided $7 million for the “orderly closure” of the commission, decreasing its funding by $10 million.
    A White House budget document pointed to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend as evidence the state is wealthy enough that it does not need the federally supported commission.
    The Trump administration said most of the commission’s work duplicates other federal programs, asserting the commission had not proven its effectiveness at boosting overall economic conditions in targeted areas.
    “(The) rationale for a unique and additional federal subsidy to Alaska is difficult to justify given that the state of Alaska’s oil revenues allow it to pay an annual dividend ($1,600 in 2018) to each of its residents,” the budget document said.
    The president’s annual budget proposal is not binding and must be approved by Congress, which is likely to make significant changes.
    The administration proposed eliminating the Denali Commission in previous years and Alaska’s congressional delegation vowed again Monday to protect the Anchorage-based commission.
    Jason Hoke, the commission’s federal co-chair, said the agency is critical to the state and federal government.
    “I hope it does (survive) so I can prove to the president how valuable an asset he has,” Hoke said.   

Gov Proposes Lottery Amid Budget Trouble

Associated Press
    JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska, long-reliant on oil and in search of options amid a persistent budget deficit, may turn to the lottery for help.
    Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced legislation Wednesday proposing a lottery. His administration said it could serve as part of his goal of providing greater fiscal stability.
    It comes on the heels of deep budget cuts Dunleavy proposed last year that were met with public outcry. That anger helped fuel a recall effort against him now tied up in the courts. His budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year backs off deep cuts but would draw heavily from savings, which legislative leaders say is unacceptable. Lawmakers blew through billions of dollars in savings struggling with how to address a deficit that has persisted amid low to middling oil prices.
    Estimates for what a lottery might generate vary with the kind of games that would be allowed, and it would take time for a lottery corporation to be set up. The administration estimates draw games only could generate around $5 million to $10 million a year for the state. It expects that number would grow if additional games were added.
    Response from lawmakers has been mixed. Some see the potential new revenue as a plus, while others are critical of what they see as a lack of an overall fiscal plan from Dunleavy.
    “It still doesn’t solve Alaska’s fundamental fiscal problem,” Juneau Democratic Sen. Jesse Kiehl recently told reporters. Kiehl has advocated for changes to the state’s oil tax structure and a broad-based tax, like an income tax. The state has no personal income or statewide sales taxes.
    Alaska is one of five states that doesn’t have a lottery, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. Versions of a state lottery have been proposed in the past but stalled. Dunleavy and House Majority Leader Steve Thompson have each proposed a lottery bill this year.
    Dunleavy’s bill would establish a lottery corporation that would be able to conduct any kind of lottery game, including in-state and multi-state draw games, such as Powerball or Mega Millions, scratch-offs, sports betting, and games through use of any media, including electronic terminals, according to the administration.
    The bill from Thompson, a Fairbanks Republican, would allow for a state lottery and participation in a multi-state lottery but not allow a lottery board to authorize such things as scratch-off ticket games or video lottery terminals.
    Dunleavy’s bill proposes money in a lottery profits fund be aimed at an education endowment fund and programs to address domestic violence, drug abuse, senior services, foster care and homelessness.
    The state currently allows charitable gaming, including bingo games.
    Thompson said he’s glad Dunleavy has shown interest in a lottery bill. “Ten million bucks, it’s not chicken feed, that’s for sure,” Thompson said Wednesday. “It isn’t going to solve the problems, but every little bit helps.”
    Other ideas being floated to help address the budget include an increase in the motor fuel tax and a $30 a year tax on wages. Deputy Revenue Commissioner Mike Barnhill has said the department is interested in future discussions with lawmakers on sales taxes.
    A proposed ballot initiative would overhaul the state’s oil-tax structure.
    The state last month held its first raffle to support education. Alaskans could enter using $100 increments of their permanent fund dividends. Prize money for the four winning entrants totaled about $32,600.
    House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent from Dillingham, recently told reporters he thinks the political environment this session would “allow us to nibble around the edges on the new revenue issue,” considering smaller proposals like the motor fuel tax increase or a lottery.
    House Finance Committee co-Chair Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat, said he didn’t think there would be support for a more extensive tax debate this year. Dunleavy has proposed a constitutional amendment that would let voters weigh in on new or increased taxes approved by lawmakers.

Conoco Ends Plan to Build Island as Oil Staging Area

    ANCHORAGE (AP) — ConocoPhillips has abandoned its plan to build a temporary island as a staging area for its oil discovery project on Alaska’s North Slope, an official said.
    The oil company has instead proposed to rely more heavily on the state’s ice roads to move infrastructure to its remote Willow site. Alaska’s Energy Desk reported  Monday.
    The change came in response to criticism from North Slope residents and groups opposed to the construction of the island, including the Arctic village of Nuiqsut, said Connor Dunn, Conoco development manager for the Willow project.
    “We wanted to take those concerns seriously and took the opportunity to try and find a way to get the support of the community for a different option to bring these modules to the North Slope,” Dunn said.
    Over the past 15 years, the company has changed plans for bridge construction and power generation in response to feedback from indigenous people and other local groups.
    The Willow prospect is in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and would be the North Slope’s westernmost oil field if it is built.
    Willow could produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day, Conoco said.
    The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is conducting an environmental analysis of the proposed project. The agency announced last month that it has pushed back its final decision.
    “This is very indicative of how public comments can help shape best decisions,” said Lesli Ellis-Wouters, a bureau spokeswoman in Alaska.   

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