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Alaska senators tout tax bill provisions as beneficial - WTHR

Legislative News - Mon, 2017-12-04 23:47

Alaska senators tout tax bill provisions as beneficial
WTHR
Hoover then resigned as House speaker after acknowledging he paid to settle the claim. He denied the harassment, but said he was guilty of sending inappropriate but consensual text messages to the woman. He remains in the state legislature. State ...

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Readers write: Letters to the editor, December 5, 2017

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 21:25

Thanks for restoring my faith

Black Friday could've taken on a different meaning for me if not for an honest man that was raised to do the right thing. I dropped and lost my wallet in the Home Depot parking lot. Thankfully it was picked up by Steve Marquez, who then was able to locate me through a friend's address in my wallet. Everything was returned to me, including restoring faith in others that good people are out there. In this current crime climate, I was certain that the worst was going to happen and prepared myself for fraudulent charges and identity theft. I was astounded to put it mildly to get his phone call that my wallet was found.

This kind, integrity driven man deserved the reward but I have a feeling his rewards are internal. Thank you Steve. Paying it forward was a gift to me and I will continue the opportunity.

As a note to others, keep current contact information in your wallet. Do not carry your social security number, unnecessary charge cards or passwords.

— Karen Duchow, Anchorage

Good job teaching students about the Board of Game

Bravo to the students in the "introduction to the Board of Game" for becoming active participants in game management. (Commentary, Nov. 30) Even better these students showed that educated discussions are far more effective than angry protests. I hope UAF and UAA offer more courses that provide information for life skills after graduation. Thanks for sharing this important and informative commentary.

— Fran Evanson, Anchorage

Stand up, be heard on taxes

There was an urgent rush and flush of voting on tax cuts. The law had not even been typed up. No matter what tax slight to you, what financial prejudice to friends is revealed, did you complain, say no or did you smile and just shake your head?

I think most people see themselves sitting in the gallery, in the audience, sitting at home, speechless. "What just happened?" a few probably said. The senators are the actors on history's stage. These are people deciding your tax break — if any — and you barely tolerate, admire or dislike them.

On the TV stage in the Senate Well, you see the senators ayeing what tax you'll pay. Behind the chamber out of sight were the corporate men, the CEOs and big businessmen who expect their cut. Out in the gallery I saw a few of you, people like me. We can still speak up. Say something to the spineless Sullivan and Murkowski.

— Jim Hanlen, Anchorage

Shoe is on the other foot now

I remember only too well a few years ago when ObamaCare was enacted and Congresswoman Pelosi said we would have to vote for the bill to find out what's in it. And I remember the outrage the Republicans voiced over not being able to properly consider the bill before it was voted into place by a one-sided Congress. And now you're doing the same thing to us with this "tax reform" bill? Pushing it through on a one-sided vote without any opportunity for anyone to properly consider what's in the bill or even read the bill in less than one hour?

Alaskan senators, if you have any self-respect at all, do not vote for any bill that can't be properly considered by all parties concerned, especially we the American taxpayers.

— John Klapproth, Anchorage

Time to put Lisa out to pasture

Unlike in a real monarchy, Alaskans aren't required to keep Lisa Murkowski on the throne that her father passed on to her.

Every once in a while, she flirts with Democrats (and with sanity) and we go all weak in the knees. Then she moves back to her crazy side and votes for a tax bill that will destroy the economy, take health care away from millions, cripple Medicare and balloon the deficit.

Let's put her out to pasture (and Sullivan with her) and start electing senators who work for those of us who aren't billionaires.

— Connie Faipeas, Anchorage

Harvey's greatest gift of all

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Harvey Weinstein.

As a teenager growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., I was able to see many great concerts brought in by small upstart Harvey and Corky Productions.

As an adult, I have been able to enjoy many of his undeniably great cinematic productions — while he increasingly became a pathological predator.

As a parent, I would like to thank him again.

The greatest gift he has given me was not the concerts or the movies but rather opening up the flood gates of sexual harassment scrutiny from which my 12-year-old daughter will benefit in pleasantly intangible ways.

— Peter Montesano, Anchorage

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a letter under 200 words for consideration, email letters@adn.com, or click here to submit via any web browser. Submitting a letter to the editor constitutes granting permission for it to be edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity. Send longer works of opinion to commentary@adn.com.

RNC to support Moore in Senate race in Alabama, weeks after cutting ties with his campaign

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 20:37

President Trump's endorsement of Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore on Monday prompted the Republican National Committee and a pro-Trump super PAC to re-enter the state, boosting a candidate who had been largely cut off by his party.

Senate Republican leaders remained critical of Moore on Monday, warning that the former judge is likely to face an immediate ethics probe if he is elected next week. But the America First Action super PAC, following Trump's lead, announced that it would spent $1.1 million to elect Moore, while the RNC said it was returning to the field after pulling out in mid-November.

The divergent attitudes toward Moore, who has been accused of making unwanted sexual advances toward teenage girls when he was in his 30s, underscored how polarizing a figure he would be among his party's national leaders if he wins the Dec. 12 special election.

Even if Moore is largely ostracized by his Senate colleagues, the support of the president could make him an influential figure in Washington – a point he appeared determined to emphasize on Monday.

"I look forward to fighting alongside the President to #MAGA!" Moore wrote on Twitter, using the acronym for Trump's signature campaign theme, "Make America Great Again."

Trump and Senate Republicans have already started pondering Moore's place in the party if he gets past Democrat Doug Jones in a contest that recent polling shows is neck and neck. The president wrote on Twitter on Monday that the united Democratic opposition to the GOP's sweeping tax plan showed "why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama."

"We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!" Trump wrote.

Trump's message went further than his previous remarks about the race, in which he has bashed Jones but stopped just short of advocating for Moore. The president placed a call to Moore on Monday morning, and the Senate nominee proudly trumpeted it in his own tweet.

"'Go get 'em, Roy!' – President Trump," Moore tweeted.

On Capitol Hill, the reception remained frostier – although a shift in tone appeared underway among senators, too. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas, the second-ranking Republican senator, said Monday that he favors a congressional ethics probe into the allegations facing Moore is he is elected.

But Cornyn also hinted that if Moore wins, he would be a factor in the Senate and cannot be ignored.

"None of us get to vote on who's the senator from Alabama. Just Alabama voters do. So I think we have to respect their decision – whatever it is," he said.

That statement contrasted with a drumbeat among GOP senators for Moore to end his campaign just after The Washington Post reported the first allegations.

Led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Republicans also explored ways to try to elect another GOP candidate, either through a write-in campaign or a postponed election. But neither option proved feasible, as local Republicans rallied around Moore and the White House refused to intervene.

Since then, McConnell and his top deputies have taken a more hands-off approach to the race. Like Cornyn did on Monday, McConnell said in weekend television interviews that the outcome was in Alabama's hands.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump has been ramping up his involvement in the race. After staying relatively quiet in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, the president has steadily grown warmer toward Moore.

Before endorsing Moore on Monday morning, Trump had spoken at length about the Alabama race with his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, according to a person familiar with the conversation granted anonymity to describe private talks. Bannon was scheduled to appear at a Moore rally Tuesday afternoon in Fairhope, Alabama.

Trump will travel to the same media market on Friday, just over the border in Pensacola, Florida, where he could encourage Alabamians to turn out for Moore.

One senior White House official said Trump jumped in for a few reasons: because aides persuaded him that his support could push Moore to victory, because he would probably take part of the blame if Moore lost, and because he didn't like the idea of backing Moore less than full-throatedly.

For those around Bannon, Trump's decision to embrace Moore less than a month after the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled out of the campaign is a victory in their fight against McConnell. Bannon is expected to once again mention McConnell in his remarks Tuesday night.

"This is a total embarrassment for Mitch McConnell, who put all of his political capital on the line to deliver this Senate seat to a liberal Democrat completely opposed to the Trump agenda," said Andy Surabian, a confidant of Bannon who serves as senior adviser to the Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump advocacy group.

McConnell's allies continue to view the aggressive defense of Moore mounted by Bannon as a warning sign for the rest of the party.

"You have this unbelievable contrast between on the one hand cash cows like Matt Lauer being shown the door, and on the other hand you have Steve Bannon sending down people to dig up dirt on women who come forward with serious and credible allegations," said Steven Law, a McConnell ally who runs the Senate Leadership Fund, which campaigned against Moore in the primary.

If Moore wins and is seated, he could face immediate scrutiny from the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, a normally secretive panel of three Republicans and three Democrats.

The panel, which has said it is looking into allegations of sexual misconduct against Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., could look into the accusations confronting Moore and determine their validity and whether they merit punishment such as a censure, or, in the most severe case, a vote in the full Senate over whether Moore should be expelled.

Rob Walker, a former chief counsel and staff director of the Senate and House Ethics panels, predicted the process could take three months or more.

Expelling a senator is very rare and would require the approval of two-thirds of the Senate. An actual vote hasn't happened since 1862.

A recent Washington Post-Schar School poll showed that 50 percent of likely Alabama voters support Jones and 47 percent back Moore, which is within the margin of error. On Monday, both candidates sought to shore up their support.

After a campaign event in his hometown of Fairfield, Alabama, Jones, who is trying to win over Republicans considering crossing party lines over the Moore allegations, parried questions about the Trump endorsement by saying he'd ignore "people calling me names" and focus on his own race.

"We're talking about issues. We're meeting people. We're talking to the media," Jones said. "Roy Moore is nowhere to be seen."

Asked if he would have supported the tax bill that passed the Senate last week, Jones said it would "blow up the deficit" and that there hadn't been enough bipartisan work to fix it.

Jones also attacked Bannon.

"President Trump ran Steve Bannon out of the White House because of his politics of division," said Jones. "It has no place in this state."

Should he win, Moore is expected to complicate McConnell's job of trying to keep Senate Republicans in line. He has openly criticized the GOP leader throughout his campaign.

Moore has also called the long-standing practice of requiring 60 votes for most legislation to pass the Senate "unconstitutional," and he has vowed to fight it if elected.

He also calls abortion a violation of the Constitution, and has promised not to vote for a budget that would send any federal dollars to Planned Parenthood.

"I think I could help with the Judiciary Committee, because I do understand the Constitution," Moore said in an interview with One America News Network over the weekend that was broadcast Monday. "I do understand what judges do when they put themselves above the Constitution."

Even among a small group of conservative senators known for bucking McConnell, including Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Moore could have trouble fitting in.

"Sen. Lee has unendorsed Judge Moore and called for him to step out of the race. Nothing has changed. Anything new on the issue would be premature at this point," Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said Monday.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and a potential Senate contender in Utah next year, wrote on Twitter that Moore becoming a senator "would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation."

Moore retorted that Romney had either "lost his courage or he doesn't care about truth anymore."

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who said he has already voted by write-in absentee ballot for an unnamed "distinguished Republican" who is not Moore, said in an interview Monday that he fears Moore's political style would not serve his state or the nation well.

"I think that he's thrived on controversy, and I don't believe anybody can thrive on controversy forever and not get burned up by it," Shelby said.

He added, "I don't believe that Roy Moore, if he was elected to the Senate, and he might be, would work in the Senate – I don't mean to go along to get along, I'm talking about to build the nation, build the state, at least as a lot of people believe we ought to do."

Weigel reported from Montgomery, Ala. Philip Rucker in Washington and Josh Dawsey in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

Stand in the cold for human rights

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 20:17

In the wake of World War II, as the extent of Nazi atrocities came to light, many nations of the world came together to articulate the basic rights of all human beings. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, with the support of the United States. At its core is the notion that we are all born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that we are entitled to fairness and justice regardless of our differences. The rights to equal protection, freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, freedom from torture and inhumane treatment, and freedom to seek asylum from persecution are among those embraced by the declaration's terms.

These rights are considered inherent and inalienable – neither granted to us by governments nor removable by governments, but integral to being human.

[Human Rights Day vigil on the Anchorage Park Strip, 2016]

I  first celebrated Human Rights Day – December 10 – nearly 35 years ago, when I joined a candlelight vigil in the Fairbanks ice fog at 40 below with fellow members of the local chapter of Amnesty International, the human rights organization. For a number of years following, I stood vigil at similar events in Anchorage. It always felt impossible at those times to imagine the tragedies that befell so many fellow citizens of this world at the hands of their own governments. It felt incomprehensible that so many suffered because of their religion or politics, their race or ethnicity, their nationality or language, their gender or sexual orientation.

How could one respond meaningfully to the death squads, the ethnic cleansings, or the genocides? How could one begin to counteract the countless lesser-known evils carried out against their citizens by despots around the globe? Extrajudicial killings. Torture. Imprisonment for one's ideas or beliefs. The magnitude of inhumane behavior was overwhelming, and it was always hard, gathered around our tiny flames, to feel that we were making any difference at all. Yet somehow, holding a candle in far away Alaska seemed like an important gesture, a way to stand up for victims who could not stand up for themselves. Bearing witness seemed the least we could do.

Today, as the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approaches, threats to human rights seem as great as ever, both at home and abroad. All around us, we hear the drumbeat of hatred and division. We see vulnerable people threatened and victimized because of who they are, and people who stand up for them marginalized, arrested, or worse. We see world leaders championing or ignoring atrocities instead of condemning them. We see the very fabric of the world community being pulled and torn, creating a climate of chaos and upheaval in which human rights abuse can take root and thrive.

[We will protect the human rights of 'dreamers']

It's heartbreaking, and hard not to feel caught in a deep and dark undertow where personal action is futile. But what I learned over all those years standing vigil in the cold is that acts of conscience matter. As individuals, we may have little power to end human rights abuse or demand accountability for governments that engage in it. But as a community of concerned citizens, we can help ensure that our own city, state and nation respect and defend fundamental rights and honor the limits of governmental power. We can raise our voices to lift human dignity, and call out those who demand rights for themselves while diminishing the rights of others. We can show support for those among us who work every day to protect and defend basic freedoms and make great positive impact in people's lives. And perhaps most importantly, we can give ourselves hope that we live in a society that is able to face its challenges with compassion and good will, not rancor and malevolence.

This year, concerned Alaskans will once again gather to light candles and raise our collective voices to demand respect for human rights both near and far. Sponsored by the Alaska Institute for Justice and co-sponsored by a dozen other local organizations, the Human Rights Day Vigil will take place on Sunday, December 10, from 2 p.m.-3 p.m. at Anchorage Town Square. We will once again share messages of tolerance and mutual respect, and urge our leaders to honor the human rights principles that our nation has long endorsed. Following the vigil, we will gather nearby to warm up, make candles, and write postcards to honor the occasion.

The late Nelson Mandela warned that "to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity."

On Dec. 10, we can stand together for our common humanity. Please join us.

Barbara Hood is volunteer coordinator of the Alaska Institute for Justice's Human Rights Day Vigil. She is a former Alaska area coordinator for Amnesty International USA.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

How a classic World War II seaplane earned the title ‘the Queen of Dago Lake’

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 20:08

A 1943 Consolidated PBY Catalina – one of the most widely used seaplanes of World War II – has been on display at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum since 1987. The amphibious aircraft made a forced landing at Dago Lake on the Alaska Peninsula in 1947 after it suffered engine failure – which is where it earned its title, "the Queen of Dago Lake." When the military returned to the lake to retrieve the plane, parts had been stripped off.

Seventeen-year-old pilot Fred Richards later bought the plane, but before Richards could salvage the flying boat, even more parts had been stripped from it. Richards sold the engines to an outfit in Southeast Alaska.

In 1984 the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum moved the plane as far as King Salmon. In 1987, the Alaska National Guard moved the plane to Lake Hood with a Sikorsky Skycrane, where it has become a cornerstone of the Museum.

Here are the biggest sticking points between the House and Senate tax bills

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 19:38

WASHINGTON — House and Senate Republicans are set to go to work this week to reconcile significant differences between their two tax bills.

Here are the biggest sticking points they need to resolve while making sure the legislation does not reduce revenues by more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade or, under Senate rules, add to the budget deficit after that. If it exceeds that amount, Republicans could no longer pass their tax package with a simple majority vote in the Senate.

INDIVIDUAL TAX RATES

The House bill collapses the current seven brackets into four and keeps the top tax rate of 39.6 percent, although it raises the income level at which that applies. The changes would take effect in 2018 and would reduce federal revenues by an estimated $1.09 trillion over the next decade, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

The Senate bill has seven brackets, but reduces the top rate to 38.5 percent for income over $500,000 for single filers and $1 million for couples filing jointly. The Senate bill also reduces income levels on other brackets compared with the current levels.

To offset those costs over the next 10 years, the Senate bill calls for the changes and all its others to the individual tax code to expire after 2025. Still, the Senate bill's individual bracket changes would reduce federal revenues by more than the House's version — $1.17 trillion over the next decade, the Joint Committee on Taxation said.

Lawmakers will have to decide how to reconcile the two sets of brackets and whether the changes should be permanent or temporary.

While the House bill makes no changes to the Affordable Care Act, the Senate bill would repeal the individual mandate that requires Americans to purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty.

The move would increase federal revenues by about $318 billion over the next decade because the government would no longer pay federal subsidies to help low- and middle-income Americans buy insurance policies, the congressional tax analysis committee said.

Repealing the individual mandate also would lead to 13 million additional uninsured Americans by 2027 and premium hikes of 10 percent, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

MORTGAGE INTEREST DEDUCTION

The House bill would reduce the mortgage interest deduction for future home purchases.

Homeowners would be limited to deducting interest on up to $500,000 in mortgage debt, down from the current $1 million limit. Deductions for second homes would no longer be allowed. Existing mortgages would not be affected.

The Senate bill does not change any of those provisions, which benefit states with high housing costs more than elsewhere.

ESTATE TAX

The House and Senate bills would double the exemption next year for assets subject to the estate tax, a levy of as much as 40 percent that hits heirs of mostly wealthy individuals.

The current exemption levels are $5.49 million for an individual and about $11 million for a couple.

Both bills also would double — to $28,000 per person and $56,000 per couple — the annual exclusion from the federal tax on gifts to children or other people.

But the House plan would repeal the estate and gift taxes entirely in 2024. That would reduce federal revenues by about $151 billion over a decade.

The Senate plan would keep the estate and gift taxes in place with the higher exemption levels. That would reduce federal revenues by $83 billion, the congressional tax analysis committee said.

 ALTERNATIVE MINIMUM TAX

The House bill eliminates the alternative minimum taxes for individuals and corporations. The taxes are designed to make sure people and corporations don't avoid taxes completely.

Repealing the AMT for individuals, many of whom are very wealthy, would reduce federal revenues by about $700 billion over the next decade. Eliminating the corporate AMT would reduce federal revenues by about $40 billion over the same period, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

The Senate bill originally also repealed both taxes, although the individual AMT would have returned in 2026 as part of the expiration of the changes to that part of the tax code.

A last-minute need for more revenue led Senate Republicans to change the bill to keep the individual and corporate AMTs. The exemption amounts and phase-out thresholds for individuals would increase.

The Senate's individual AMT changes would reduce federal revenues by $133 billion over the next decade.

CORPORATE RATE REDUCTION TIMETABLE

The House and Senate bills permanently slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent. The House cut would take effect next year, but the Senate bill delays it until 2019.

That one-year difference is significant, worth about $127 billion, according to the committee analysis.

The corporate tax reduction is the single costliest provision in both bills in terms of lost federal revenue. The House corporate tax cut reduces revenues by $1.46 trillion over the next decade. The Senate's version reduces revenues by $1.33 trillion over the same period.

TAX RATE ON PASS-THROUGH BUSINESSES

The House and Senate bills also reduce taxes on so-called pass-through businesses _ sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations _ whose owners pay through the individual tax code.

The changes are complicated and the bills take different approaches to those taxes, which are paid by many mom-and-pop operations but also large partnerships such as law firms, hedge funds and some of President Donald Trump's own businesses.

The House bill would cap the top tax rate for pass-throughs at 25 percent, down from 39.6 percent.

The Senate plan would continue taxing pass-through businesses at the individual rate that would apply to the owner, with a top proposed rate of 38.5 percent. But the Senate bill would allow most pass-throughs to deduct about 23 percent of their business income from their taxes.

Bidding on Jeff King sets a record at the Talkeetna Bachelor Auction

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 19:34

Four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King put himself on the auction block at Saturday night's Talkeetna Bachelor Auction, and the result was historic.

A date with King sold for $4,600 — a record for the annual fundraiser that goes back to 1981.

"This is an all-time high bid, beating our old high by about $1800.00!!" Sara Sickler of the Talkeetna Bachelor Society wrote in an email.

Sickler said other mushers have been auctioned off over the years, but she thinks King is the first Iditarod champion.

King took the stage at the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar wearing his bib from the 2016 race — No. 61, which matches his age.

King strolled the runway back and forth amid shrieks and shouts from a wild audience, at one point shoving a stuffed animal out of the fly of his outfit. A red rose and a pair of handcuffs in one hand, he pumped his arms as the auctioneer stirred up higher and higher bids from the crowd.

His date package included a glacier-landing flightseeing trip with Fly Denali; an ATV tour for two; a zipline tour for two; a Husky Homestead tour for four; and a room and breakfast at the Grand Denali Hotel — "this got bumped up to a 2 night stay while he was on stage," Sickler said.

The winning bid of $4,600 represents more money than what was awarded to 37 of the 64 mushers who finished the 2017 race to Nome.

Funds from the auction benefit a number of organizations that aid families in crisis, according to the Talkeetna Bachelor Society website.

Your Christmas tree in Alaska might be a little pricier this year

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 19:34

At Alaska Mill Feed & Garden Center in Anchorage, the perfect Christmas tree will cost a bit more this year.

Tree prices there have gone up about 15 percent since 2015, because there are fewer Christmas trees available this year in some parts of the U.S., said president Joel Klessens.

"Supply is tight, there's no question about that, and prices are up," he said. "We weren't able to get maybe all the specific sizes and the quantities, but we did get some of everything."

The industry's supply crunch in some parts of the country stems from the Great Recession, when many farmers planted fewer trees, The New York Times reported last week. That means there aren't as many available to harvest now, nearly a decade later. In Anchorage, though, it seems you'll probably be able to find a tree just fine.

"You don't want to panic, like there's no real trees in town," Klessens said. Trees this year cost his business about 20 percent more than two years ago, he said, and he's tried to mitigate that some for customers. A six- or seven-foot noble fir at Alaska Mill goes for $69.

"I think everybody, their supply has been OK, but it's been tight on certain sizes," he said.

[How to harvest your own Christmas tree in Alaska]

At Bob Smith's Christmas Trees, owner Dave Smith said some of his trees are a bit more expensive this year — about $5 on a standard tree and $10 to $15 more on some of the taller ones.

His business grows trees in Minnesota and then sells them out of a lot on Dimond Boulevard, and he said he hasn't dealt with a shortage. During the national recession, his business bought up empty land in Minnesota and planted more at a time when others were scaling back.

"We kind of went against the trend" at the time, Smith said.

Because his business grows its supply in Minnesota, he also didn't have to deal with the fallout from drought and wildfires elsewhere in the country. But a rise in freight prices are another factor to reckon with, he said.

At Bell's Nursery and Gifts, owner Mike Mosesian said that although his costs have been rising, you won't pay more for a tree there this season. He said he's simply prepared to make less money.

"I felt that with the economy being the way it is, and a lot of businesses are suffering, why raise my prices and charge people more?" he said. "Buying a Christmas tree is kind of an emotional thing, especially for a family with children."

Darryl Leiser, owner of Dimond Greenhouses, also said prices for his trees haven't gone up this year.

At Mile 5.2 Greenhouse and Gift Shop in Eagle River, you'll find a different type of tree this season, but not because of any shortage.

Dale Walberg, the owner, said he's wanted to switch from fresh-cut trees to live, potted trees for awhile now for the Christmas season and finally made the change this year. The Norfolk Island pines range from a few inches to about four feet tall, he said, and are meant to be kept long after the holiday as a houseplant.

"We figured maybe people don't want to spend $100 on a tree in a recession," Walberg said. The trees at his greenhouse are priced from $25 to $125.

Anchorage Assemblymen seek to speed up pace of clearing illegal camps from parks

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 19:33

People evicted from illegal encampments in Anchorage parks may soon have less time to move, as neighbors have pushed elected officials to take more decisive action about a seemingly endless cycle of tents and encampments in city parks and greenbelts.

An ordinance up for debate before the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night slightly shrinks the moving time for an illegal camp from a little more than two weeks to 10 days.

Homeless advocates and officials in the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz say the measure will make little difference without more housing options and other services for the chronically homeless, and say the speed of clean-ups largely depends on resources available to the police and city parks department.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska has suggested a possible legal challenge. The measure comes at a time of overflowing emergency shelters at the east end of downtown Anchorage.

But backers say it's meant to bring some relief to neighbors and trail and park users.

"It's only a little bit of a solution for the neighbors and the people that own or are around the property where illegal camps are," said Fred Dyson of Chugiak-Eagle River, who is co-sponsoring the measure with Assemblyman Eric Croft.

Croft first introduced the measure in October. Since then, the proposed 10-day time frame has remained unchanged.

But Croft has since added in a variety of other policies, indicating that the city is working on more broadly addressing the reasons people may be camping in the first place. He notes in the ordinance that the city has committed about a half-million dollars to homelessness initiatives next year. That includes housing for homeless seniors older than 65 and a special team to work in camps and shelters to help connect people to housing and jobs.

"This quicker clean-up makes sense to everybody if we're really working hard on the other end, which is providing services," Croft said.

The measure itself doesn't direct more money to camp clean-ups, though the Assembly approved $170,000 for more parks staff to do clean-ups in next year's budget. The city could not keep up with the volume of belongings and trash in the camps, said John Rodda, the city parks director.

The new time frame would also end in 2021, based on Croft's current proposal. Croft said the city should evaluate how well it's working between now and then.

City officials could take quicker action on a wide variety of public nuisances if the measure passes Tuesday. But it's tailored to illegal camps, one of Anchorage's more intractable problems. It's the latest turn in a continued back-and-forth between elected officials, neighbors and homeless advocates.

A  special unit in the Anchorage Police Department, a social worker and park clean-up crews now use a phone-based application to track camps. The city park's department assigned a 10-person team to camp clean-up and collected 160 tons of trash this summer alone.

The amount of trash particularly infuriates neighbors who live near parks and trails. The topic pops up frequently on neighborhood social media sites like Nextdoor.

Some have raised questions about crime and safety in the camps. Stephanie Rhoades, a former Anchorage Superior Court judge, came to one Assembly homelessness committee meeting to say she's enjoyed walking on the Chester Creek Trail with her husband for many years but has watched the trail become "degraded" by encampments in recent years.

In October, she said, she noticed a homeless camp with a chimney and an active fire. There were propane bottles and a grill for cooking, she said. Rhoades started a therapeutic court for people with mental health problems and said she understood complexities of homelessness.

Homeless advocates have said it isn't helpful to push people out of camps without more of a place for people with troubled or criminal histories to go, or a system that more effectively prevents homelessness from happening in the first place. More than 2,600 people sought homelessness services between July and September, according to the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. About 611 classified as "chronic," which includes longtime campers with a disability.

A social worker embedded with the Anchorage Police Department has begun to send campers to Partners for Progress, a coalition aimed at helping people with criminal records find work and housing, said Nancy Burke, the city homeless coordinator.

If a person is evicted from a camp and has nowhere to go, it's more likely that person will steal to build a new camp, said Cathleen McLaughlin, the executive director of Partners for Progress.

"The push is to get to housing," Burke told Assembly members during a committee meeting earlier this year. "We're doing a complete system change. We're not just trying to move people around the community."

Burke and other officials in the Berkowitz administration want to build new buildings, convert existing buildings and work with private landlords to accommodate more people, and are examining several properties around Anchorage.

Anchorage's current camping policies date back to 2010, when the ACLU of Alaska sued the city, asserting that police were seizing and destroying the property of homeless people with too little notice. A judge ruled in 2011 that Anchorage's policies were unconstitutional. The city then set up a 15-day time window for people to move before crews can throw away belongings.

Casey Reynolds, a spokesman for the ACLU of Alaska, declined to comment ahead of Tuesday's vote about whether his group would react with a lawsuit.

In reality, limited manpower and funding often means that several weeks go by before parks crews can clean up a camp.

"We can't keep up with the cleanup in general terms," Rodda, the city's parks director, said in a recent interview.

Current law allows Anchorage to shut down encampments with as little as 72 hours notice. That's the policy in the much-larger city of Seattle, where homelessness has been declared an emergency, and camps have proliferated in recent years.

But city manager Bill Falsey told Assembly members in an October meeting, while he was still working as city attorney, that the shorter notice period is very rarely used. Personal property must be stored under those circumstances, Falsey said.

"The challenges of storing this material have been too high," Falsey said.

At another recent Assembly homelessness committee meeting, Heidi Heinrich, the owner of the Lucky Wishbone restaurant, said she thought the community councils could help find storage centers. She also said she didn't think the noticing period change would make a difference if the city was already stretched thin on its manpower.

Croft said he's hoping his ordinance will at least allow the city to more quickly break up camps deemed "particularly worrisome."

He also said he's working on a second measure that would affect how far away campers can move from one location to another, legal guidelines for the storage of belongings, and fires and cooking in illegal camps.

Alaska senators kill tax hike for cruise industry - Seattle Times

Juneau Hot Topics - Mon, 2017-12-04 18:46

Seattle Times

Alaska senators kill tax hike for cruise industry
Seattle Times
The cruise-ship tax provision could have impacted tourism, a major driver of an Alaska economy that has otherwise slowed in a recession because of persistently low oil prices. This summer, more than 1 million tourists came to the state on cruise ships ...
Tax Hike for Cruise Industry Dropped Amid Alaska ConcernsU.S. News & World Report

all 2 news articles »

Alaska Republicans move to block primary ballot access for legislators who joined with Democrats

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 18:28

Alaska Republican Party leaders have moved to stop three GOP lawmakers from appearing on their primary ballot, saying a recent court ruling allows them to disassociate from the Republican legislators who joined with Democrats to take control of the state House.

If the party succeeds in denying the lawmakers the GOP nomination, it could make it more difficult for them to be re-elected — a task already complicated by the Republican Party's commitment to unseating the three legislators that chairman Tuckerman Babcock calls "turncoats."

But Saturday's vote by a committee of Alaska GOP leaders is only a first step in an untested process: The state elections division administers the primary and will ultimately determine which candidates appear on the ballot. And at least one of the three Republicans targeted by his own party, Homer Rep. Paul Seaton, said he was skeptical the GOP's plan would work.

"I don't think they can do that," he said. "I don't think it comports with state law."

The Alaska GOP's state central committee voted unanimously Saturday to ask state elections officials to block Seaton, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage and Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak from running in the Republican primary in August.

Those three lawmakers last year joined with two independents and 17 Democrats to take control of the 40-member House, wresting it from the Republicans who had held the majority for years.

[Related: Alaska House will be run by coalition, while Senate stays under Republican control]

Tuckerman Babcock, the Republican Party chairman, wrote Monday to Josie Bahnke, the state elections director, to ask her to bar Stutes, Seaton and LeDoux from the GOP primary.

Bahnke, in an email Monday afternoon, said she'd just learned of Republicans' request and was still reviewing it.

Babcock announced the party's move in a colorfully-worded statement Sunday that accused Seaton, LeDoux and Stutes of "rotten and foul" behavior. In it, he said the GOP's unusual request to bar candidates from its primary was authorized by an October decision by Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg.

That 33-page ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Alaska Democratic Party, in which the Democrats wanted to invalidate a state law barring independents from participating in partisan primaries. Pallenberg agreed with the Democrats and overturned the law, though the state has appealed the case to the Alaska Supreme Court.

[Related: New court ruling could allow Alaska Gov. Walker, an independent, to run in Democratic primary]

Pallenberg, in his decision, said parties have an "essential associational right" to run their chosen nominees, regardless of their party affiliation. The Republicans now argue that the decision should also allow the parties to bar candidates from their primaries.

"There is a significant constitutional right of association, and absent some overriding state interest, the state must defer to the procedures of the political party," Babcock wrote in an email Monday.

Seaton, in a phone interview, said he thinks the Republicans' request shows that they don't trust their own voters.

"The model I think they're using is Iran. You can have elections, but there is going to be some kind of overriding political entity — whether it's the ayatollah or the central committee — that is going to choose who will be the only candidate to choose from in that 'election,'" Seaton said.

Babcock, in a phone interview, said voters in Seaton's Kenai Peninsula district can still pick him as their representative — just "not as a Republican."

Babcock said Seaton's own GOP district chair, Jon Faulkner, made the motion to block Seaton from the primary ballot. But he also added that it can be hard for voters to sort through when candidates are "selling a product" — running as a Republican when they're willing to form a coalition mostly made up of Democrats.

"We consider him someone who is willing to completely misstate and mislead," Babcock said. "I think an obligation of the party is to say, 'This man has not told you the truth.'"

Body found at the base of a cliff on St. George Island

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 17:49

Villagers on the Bering Sea island of St. George were working Monday to recover a man's body found at the bottom of a sheer cliff, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Community members identified the body as Serge Lekanof, 25, troopers said. Roughly 100 people live on St. George. Lekanof has been missing since the early morning hours of Nov. 29, when witnesses said he had been drinking before walking away from his home, troopers said.

His body was spotted Friday on at beach at the bottom of the cliff. Because of rough water and rocks falling from the cliff, villagers could not immediately reach it. Saturday morning, at low tide, it was no longer there, but reappeared Monday and villagers renewed their recovery effort, troopers said.

#MeToo includes too many children; we all need to look out for them

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 17:35

Over the past several months, #MeToo has awaken individuals, families, and communities around the world about sexual assault and harassment.  Recent media reports are filled with allegations against Hollywood celebrities and elected officials.  Since the hashtag has gone viral, millions of people have used it to come forward sharing their experiences, both as an adult and/or as a child.

In April of this year, Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman added to that conversation when she shared her own story on "60 Minutes" — speaking out against the sexual abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of former U.S. Olympic team doctor Dr. Larry Nassar.  Many other individuals who posted their "Me Too" stories shared how they were sexually abused as a child as well.  All of these stories highlight the importance of sexual abuse prevention programs and the need to teach young children about personal body safety.

These personal and vulnerable stories have created a lot of conversations about this issue online, in the paper or at the watercooler.  Many people are asking how they can help protect our children.  One of the first steps is knowing the data.  The majority of children who were sexually abused were victimized by someone they knew very well.  The old adage, "Stranger Danger" is incorrect.  We need to ensure we provide the right information and tools to our children to handle not only when some stranger approaches them inappropriately but also when a trusted adult does as well.  Parents are encouraged to:

[Secrets of abuse in Alaska need telling; abused need healing]

• Engage in direct dialogue with your children

• Ensure that your young children know the proper words for their body parts and understand that there are certain parts of their body that are private.

• Answer questions your children have about their bodies honestly, and make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything that is bothering them.

• When your children are older, have conversations about healthy sexuality and what respectful romantic relationships look like.

• Teach children about secrets

• Make sure your children understand what a secret is, and what kinds of secrets are OK to keep, like birthday presents, and what kinds are not.

•Ensure children know that no adult should ever tell them to keep a secret from you.

• Talk about their rights

• Talk about when is it okay for a child to say no to an adult, even if that adult is an relative or trusted friend.

• Let them know that they don't have to hug someone if they don't feel comfortable. It is okay to give a handshake, a high five,  or a fist bump.

• Learn about and advocate for institutional policies

• Inquire about the policies for background checks with the care providers you use, such as babysitters and childcare or after-school program staff.

[Voices must be heard, even after storyteller's child sexual abuse charges]

But you don't have to be a parent to help tackle this issue. By knowing and recognizing the warning signs of child sexual abuse, you can help protect children in your community. Warning signs of child sexual abuse include:

•  Inappropriate knowledge of sexual behavior for their age level,

• Sexually explicit drawings,

• Highly sexualized play (e.g., simulated intercourse with toys, pets or other children),

• A child being fearful of a specific person or place,

• A decrease in academic performance.

As an adult who is around children regularly, whether you're a coach or a teacher, it is critical that if you suspect abuse that you make a report to the authorities by calling the Alaska report line at 800-478-4444.

Most importantly, when a child shares a story about an inappropriate encounter, believe them.  Many victims recount the time they tried to share their story with an adult and the adult made an excuse for the perpetrator or ignored it completely.  It is important to validate the child and notify the appropriate authorities to ensure the validity of the information is investigated appropriately.

All of these stories, media reports and discussions have brought more light to an issue that has plagued our communities for way too long.  Due to the nature of the topic, it can be very difficult for a victim to step forward and share their story or a community member to intervene.  The more we all acknowledge and accept these responsibilities, the greater chance we have to change the current trend.   As the old proverb says, "It takes a village to raise a child."

Trevor Storrs is executive director of the Alaska Children's Trust (ACT), the lead statewide agency that addresses the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Stolen delivery truck crashes into Church of Love in Spenard

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 17:20

A man is accused of crashing a stolen delivery truck into the side of the Church of Love on Spenard Road Monday afternoon, just after ramming a parked police car, Anchorage police say.

The man, identified as Derek Burkett, 27, is also accused of stealing a different vehicle elsewhere in Spenard that day. At about 1:30 p.m., a police officer responded to a report of a vehicle theft at the 3400 block of Dorbrandt Street.

Burkett saw the officer and stole a truck that was making a delivery in the area, police said. He hit the parked police patrol car and later crashed into the side of the Church of Love, a former church at 3502 Spenard Road that is used for community events.

A photo from the scene shows a truck labeled "Teddy's Tasty Meats" where it crashed into the side of the church off an alley.

Tyler Robinson of Cook Inlet Housing Authority, the nonprofit housing development agency that owns the building, said he was in his office Monday afternoon when he heard a "bang." He looked outside and saw a man crawling out from underneath the truck.

The man then ran across the back lot, Robinson said. Witnesses later tracked Burkett to a driveway in the 1500 block of West 34th Avenue, where he was hiding in a different truck, police said.

Police arrested Burkett there. He faces multiple charges, including felony vehicle theft, police say.

Robinson said the truck ran into a part of the church that is used as a secondary entrance and as work studios. Nobody was injured, he said, but there does appear to be damage.

He said his organization was getting ready to announce some changes to that part of the building.

"I think we're holding off on some of those now," Robinson said.

High on Denali, the Sheldon legacy continues

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 16:34

The perpetual white and gray landscape around Denali is either breathtaking or stark, depending on your perspective and reason for being there.

For the Sheldon family, the children and grandchildren of Don and Roberta Sheldon, the environment — and its features — are simply part of a larger home away from home.

I wrote about the Sheldons and their commitment to preserving the family legacy in 2016 when Siblings Kate and Robert were preparing for the construction of Sheldon Chalet, a building on the slice of rock that was the site of the tiny Sheldon Mountain House, a cabin built by their father in 1966.

The Mountain House was legendary among climbers, pilots, public figures and curious outdoor enthusiasts who flew to Ruth Glacier and the Don Sheldon Amphitheater at nearly 6,000 feet.

Even then, Don and Roberta had bigger plans for the tower of rock known as a nunatak that juts from the glacier's icy flanks. Don, a pilot who pioneered the technique of glacier landings on Denali, bought the five-acre property prior to Denali National Park and Preserve's expansion and flew up materials and carpenters to create the 200-square-foot hexagonal cabin.

But he didn't want to stop there. He had big plans to introduce Denali, glaciers, mountains and adventure to the world. A lofty goal? Perhaps, but to a guy like Don Sheldon — and now, his children — lofty goals are challenges that merely require ingenuity and grit to meet.

The Sheldon Chalet was completed a few weeks ago and sits at the far end of the nunatak, larger than its predecessor and with more panache than the humble Mountain House. It's a luxury experience for those who can afford to stay there, but this story isn't about that.

My curiosity about the Mountain House, and now the Chalet, stems from conversations I had with the family over the past year about the concept of "place."

It's a word that has come into parenting vogue, but its meaning is anything but. In essence, "place" is defined as our relationship with someplace, including the qualities that make it special to us and us alone.

I only have to close my eyes and recall the Montana ranch where my mother grew up. I can smell the drying hay, hear the wind blowing through pine trees and feel the chill of a creek running through the pasture. I am rooted to the people and landscape of this place forever, as will be my children, and theirs.

Having a place helps create a sense of human attachment and belonging. In the case of the Sheldon kids and grandkids, place translates to a connection with Don, a father and grandfather none of them had the chance to know.

Gone too soon

Robert Sheldon sent me a photo from 1974. The black-and-white is grainy after almost 50 years, but in it Don Sheldon stands tall in a down jacket and flannel shirt, a plane in the background, and his hand on 3-year-old Robert's head. Don died of cancer when Robert was 4.

Robert and his wife Marne are parents to three sons: Taylor, 20; Ryan, 18; and Cameron, 16. As the boys grew up on a diet of tales about their grandfather and great-grandfather (Roberta Sheldon's father was noted aviation pioneer Bob Reeve), it became clear the nunatak was to become more than a place to welcome visitors. It would become an anchor to the family's story.

"The importance of knowing your heritage is paramount to me," Robert said as we sat in the Sheldon Chalet living room a few weeks ago, Denali's profile evident from every window.

"For my three boys, the first multiple Sheldon sons in a long time, I wanted them to know me and who went before them. If you don't know where you are from, you'll have a hard time knowing with confidence where you are going."

Building the Sheldon Chalet was a family affair from the day Robert and Kate started sketching plans to carry forward what their parents started. It continued with Robert's teen-aged sons helping with the construction, feet planted firmly upon the rocky surface, breathing the same air and viewing the same scenery their grandfather did.

"This is what my mom and dad wanted," Robert said. "Fulfilling my parents' vision while my sons worked alongside me these past three years allowed us to experience a common effort that literally transcends generations."

Grandchildren of a legend

Cameron Sheldon is the next-to-youngest grandchild (his cousin, Reeve, daughter of Kate Sheldon, is 8). He has his mother's reddish hair and a quick smile that he gets from both of his parents.

Cameron spent days chipping away at the nunatak with his dad and brother Ryan and nights sleeping on the glacier in a tent. The work was hard, he said, but fulfilling. I asked him what being on the nunatak meant to him.

"I always wished we could meet," he said. "The first time I went to the Mountain House, it was hard to take in, the views and where we were."

"… The Mountain House and Chalet, they'll be there forever. It's a place my brothers and I can bring our own kids."

He looked around the living room of his family's expansive home in Anchorage, where we talked.

"This is just a house," he said. "It's not as important as up there."

Kate Sheldon and her family lives in Vail, Colorado, but she frequently visits Talkeetna, where she and Robert grew up. Kate was 6 when her father died.

Reeve rides around Talkeetna on her cousins' outgrown bikes, stopping at her favorite haunts, picking berries and learning skills far different from her more urban lifestyle in Vail. Talkeetna and the nunatak are places the youngster can connect to her mother and grandmother, "Grammy" Roberta, who died in 2014.

"As a child I enjoyed sleeping out in the snow during the winter, under a big evergreen tree in the yard," Kate said. "Mom would set out tarps and my siblings and I would burrow into our sleeping bags but I always remember the feeling of snowflakes gently falling on my face. It was a different time, and I want Reeve to experience that here."

Grounding kids in a good way

Helping children connect to a place can establish a personal identity and sense of values. For Robert and Kate, who were so young when their father died, being able to be physically present on the nunatak with their own children helps weave together every story and lesson they may not remember from their father's voice, but which are present in the evidence he left behind.

"This is not just the fulfillment of my parents' legacy," Robert said. "It is fulfillment of sons knowing their father in hopes that tradition, work ethic, integrity and honor are advanced to the next generation."

I asked Cameron how he thinks his grandfather would react to the new Sheldon Chalet.

"He'd walk in with a huge smile on his face," he said, and then, "I think he'd be super proud of my dad."

Erin Kirkland is author of the Alaska On the Go guidebook series and publishes the website AKontheGO.com.

2 people are dead after 3 weekend shootings in Anchorage

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 16:29

Two people were killed and another hospitalized with life-threatening injuries in three unrelated shootings over the weekend, Anchorage police said.

"These are isolated incidents that occurred," said Anchorage Police Deputy Chief Ken McCoy.

No suspects have been arrested yet in any of the incidents, he said. Police have released very few details about what happened in each of them.

The first fatal shooting took place on Saturday night in East Anchorage. On Monday, police said only that "a group of people in the area … got into an altercation" that led to the incident.

[People in Anchorage are fed up with crime. Did SB 91 make it worse?]

They identified the victim as Brandon Irlmeier, 20. Officers found his body near Sixth Avenue and Oklahoma Street at around 11 p.m when they were responding to a call about two men with guns nearby.

Orion Lind, 21, was later taken into custody for questioning but was not arrested as part of the shooting investigation, police said. He was being held at the Anchorage jail on an outstanding warrant for a probation violation.

Next, a man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries Sunday night after officers found him with a gunshot wound in a room of the Alex Hotel on Spenard Road, police said.

Officers arrived at the hotel after 9 p.m., responding to a report of a shooting.

"Detectives believe this to be a drug-related incident and not random," police said in a short release that gave no other details.

A few hours later on Sunday night, a man was shot and killed during a fight at the intersection of 68th Avenue and Lake Otis Parkway, police said.

The victim has been identified as Joshua Statham, 26.

Police arrived at the scene and found him alive just before 11 p.m. Statham was taken to a hospital by ambulance and later died.

Police said the incident was "not a random encounter." They released no suspect information.

Including the two most recent deaths, there have been 33 homicides in Anchorage so far this year, according to APD. There were 34 in 2016. Deputy Chief McCoy stressed that the crimes did not have random victims and do not point to a lack of safety for members of the general public in Anchorage.

"There are small pockets of people who are using violence within their inner circle…" he said. "The general population that isn't involved with this group are relatively safe to go about their daily lives."

Police asked members of the public with information about any of the incidents contact them at 907-786-8900 (press "0" for an operator), or, to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 561-STOP or online.

Drug-related shooting at Spenard Hotel sends man to hospital

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 16:09

A man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries Sunday night after officers found him with a gunshot wound in a room of the Alex Hotel on Spenard Road, according to Anchorage police.

Officers arrived at the hotel after 9 p.m., responding to a report of a shooting, police said.

"Detectives believe this to be a drug-related incident and not random," police said.

Police gave no other information about the incident.

This story has been updated here: Three shootings, two of them fatal, over the weekend in Anchorage

Contractor announces 92 layoffs on North Slope, but says employees might find new work

Alaska News - Mon, 2017-12-04 16:01

Another round of job reductions in Alaska's North Slope oil fields will result in approximately 92 layoffs this month, potentially adding to sector unemployment levels that are already the lowest in a decade.

But the oil field contractor that notified the state of the cuts last week believes the terminated workers could soon have new work opportunities.

The layoffs are happening because Hilcorp will be terminating many of the services provided by ASRC Energy Services at three oil fields starting Jan. 1, said Amanda Cascio, senior director of human resources at ASRC Energy, in a letter describing the cuts.

Hilcorp is expected to employ a new contractor that could hire some of the workers.

"We understand that Hilcorp is engaging a new service provider that will be seeking to employ potentially affected personnel," Cascio's letter said.

The Nov. 28 letter was sent to Lisa Mielke, coordinator of the state Rapid Response Team that seeks to find new jobs for terminated workers, and North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr.

"We were surprised and disappointed by the decision, but understand that Hilcorp wants to reduce its costs in this challenging economic environment," Cascio said in the letter.

The layoffs will affect employees at the Milne Point, Endicott and Northstar fields operated by Hilcorp, including electricians and road and pad workers at Milne and Endicott. Among the groups not affected will be vehicle maintenance shop workers at the three fields, the notice said.

North Slope producers and explorers have laid off thousands of workers in recent years to slash costs, following the oil price slide that began in mid-2014.

After peaking at 13,485 jobs in March 2015, North Slope oil and gas employment has fallen to levels last seen a decade ago. In June, the sector employed 8,931 workers. That's less than the 9,193 workers employed 10 years earlier, said Neal Fried, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Some areas of the North Slope are seeing increasing activity that is expected to result in more hiring, such as ConocoPhillips' pursuit of a large winter exploration program on the sector's western edge. Hilcorp has also proposed developing the large Liberty prospect in federal waters of the Beaufort Sea.

"There's no doubt the losses are slowing," said Fried on Monday. "The question is are the losses continuing right now, and I don't know that."

The oil and gas industry's high-paying jobs have a big impact on the state's struggling economy, and their levels are closely watched. In October, Alaska had the nation's highest unemployment rate at 7.2 percent, and the nation's worst job growth, down 1.3 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the state Labor agency.

ASRC Energy's planned layoffs are one of the largest reported by the sector to the state — a federal law requires notices of large reductions — since the industry downturn began. The state publishes information about the notices under the law, known as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988.

The sector's largest layoff notice under the law since 2015 came in May when Norcon, another oil field contractor, announced cuts for 147 employees. That resulted from a change of contract that benefited ASRC Energy, creating an opportunity for the company at the Prudhoe Bay field operated by BP.

[Norcon to cut jobs after losing North Slope contract.]

As for this latest reduction at the fields operated by Hilcorp, ASRC Energy said the layoffs will begin Dec. 18. They will end by Dec. 31.

ASRC Energy has about 40 open positions elsewhere in the company, Cascio's letter said. Affected employees who apply will receive priority consideration for those jobs, the company said. However, the employees will not receive bumping rights that allow affected workers to replace more junior employees.

Mielke said hopefully most of the terminated employees will soon have new jobs. But she added that it's uncertain how many of them will be absorbed into other positions.

Mielke said ASRC Energy quickly sent a list of the affected employees to the state. Mielke's team will use that information to contact the employees, in hope of finding new jobs for them, she said.

Hilcorp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Alaska senators tout tax bill provisions as beneficial - San Francisco Chronicle

Juneau Hot Topics - Mon, 2017-12-04 15:56

San Francisco Chronicle

Alaska senators tout tax bill provisions as beneficial
San Francisco Chronicle
Critics feared the tax could have discouraged ships from routes where they would face higher taxes. Sullivan and Murkowski said the tax would have disproportionately affected Alaska, particularly impacting communities that rely on cruise ship tourism ...

and more »

Gift wrap at the JACC - Juneau Empire

Juneau Hot Topics - Mon, 2017-12-04 15:45

Juneau Empire

Gift wrap at the JACC
Juneau Empire
Innovation Summit calling business pitches, speakers. The Juneau Economic Development Council is calling for innovators, business owners and entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas at their 2018 Innovation Summit in February. Read more · Load more · Home ...

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