Alaska News Nightly: February 8, 2012

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Judge Orders Stevens Case Report Be Made Public

Associated Press

A report detailing prosecutorial mismanagement during the Ted Stevens case will be made public.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered today that the 500-page report into the Justice Department’s botched corruption case against Stevens be released March 15.

The special prosecutor who investigated the case, did not recommend criminal charges against any of the federal prosecutors despite finding widespread misconduct, at least some of it intentional.

In 2008, a jury convicted Stevens of lying on financial disclosure documents to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in home renovations and gifts from wealthy friends. A few days later, Stevens lost re-election to the seat he’d held for 40 years.

Sullivan dismissed the conviction after the Justice Department admitted misconduct in the case, including withholding from the defense evidence favorable to Stevens. He wrote: “The government’s ill-gotten verdict in the case not only cost that public official his bid for re-election, the results of that election tipped the balance of power in the United States Senate.”

Court Hears Arguments On Point Thompson Case

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Wednesday the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the Point Thompson case — which could be critical for the future prospects of a natural gas pipeline and for the state’s ability to compel oil and gas lease holders to produce.

Potential Cook Inlet Gas Leading To ‘Wild West Mentality’

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

High energy prices, new technology and a favorable business climate are all contributing factors to a resurgence of natural resource development along the Cook Inlet.  However, the race to get to those untold quantities of oil and gas has led to what some are calling a Wild West mentality among developers.

State Could Save Billions With Pension Reserve Fund, Analyst Says

Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau

The state could save more than $5 billion in future payments to the Alaska Public Employees’ Retirement System by immediately putting $2 billion into a pension reserve fund, according to Legislative Fiscal Analyst David Teal.

Over the past five years, the state has contributed about a billion dollars to the retirement system, which has an unfunded liability estimated at $11 billion. Teal told the Senate Finance Committee today (Wednesday) that if nothing is done, yearly payments in the millions of dollars will continue through at least 2030.

“If we were to contribute an additional $2 billion now, it would allow us to stop making state assistance payments in the future,” Teal says. “Another way to look at it is: The cumulative contributions without a deposit would be $8.3 billion. Well, the cumulative contributions with the deposit are $3 [billion], for a savings of $5.3 billion over the life of this model.”

Senate Bill 187 – sponsored by the Finance Committee – would set up the $2 billion reserve fund, which could be used to supplement PERS as needed. The money would come from state savings, which currently total more than $10 billion.

Because the fund would be separate from the retirement system, Teal says the state could eventually get its money back once the PERS deficit disappears. But he says that won’t be for several years.

“One way you could look at this bill is that it’s a loan to the retirement system, and that we get our money back. But it’s a very long-term loan. You’re not talking about ten years and you get your money back. You’re talking about somewhere out there in 2050 or 2060,” says Teal.

That prompted Sitka Republican and Senate Finance Co-Chair Bert Stedman to ask, “Mr. Teal, do you plan on being here to make sure we get our money back?”

“I plan on getting my own money out by then, Mr. Chairman,” Teal responded.

This was the first hearing for the bill, which was set aside for further review. Stedman said the committee will take public comment at the next hearing.

The amount municipalities pay into the retirement system is currently capped at 22 percent of their payroll. Under SB 187 that number would stay the same.

Governor Sean Parnell has said he’s opposed to the idea of creating a reserve fund to help supplement PERS. The governor says he’d rather not create another pile of money that’s off-limits in case of an emergency, which also would be subject to the whims of the stock market like the retirement system.

PERS’ unfunded liability has been attributed to market woes, the rising cost of health care, and the extended life expectancy of retirees.

Native Groups Oppose Expanded Otter Pelt Sales

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Several Alaska Native organizations oppose parts of a legislative measure backing more sea otter harvests. But they support efforts to get Alaskans more involved in federal management of the once-rare marine mammals.

Alaska Delegation Introduces Legislation To Prevent Moving Eielson F-16s

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska’s U.S. Senators have introduced legislation to prevent the Air Force transfer of aircraft from Eielson in North Pole to joint base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.  Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski’s bill blocks funding for the movement of a 21 jet F-16 fighter squadron.  Senator Begich, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, says the measure is aimed at what he calls an unjustified move by the Air Force prior to the start of an upcoming Base Realignment and Closure Commission review.

During a BRAC round in 2005, Eielson was downsized, but spared the loss of the F-16’s, a move which would include the transfer of thousands of personnel to Anchorage.  Senator Murkowski says it was just a week ago that the Air Force petitioned Congress for permission to pursue BRACC rounds in 2013 and 2015.

Begich says the Eielson move is one of many proposed for Air Force bases around the country, to save money.

Emergency Responders Participate In ‘Alaska Shield 2012’

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

Emergency responders are getting some practice this week in responding to a statewide disaster in Alaska. KBBI’s Aaron Selbig reports on how “Alaska Shield 2012” could lead to improved response in the event of a real-world disaster.

Yukon Quest Leaders Expected In Dawson City Tonight

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

The first musher to the race’s halfway point at Dawson City is expected tonight.  Mushers have been out of touch, on the remote 150 mile stretch of trail between Eagle and Dawson since last night when four-time champ Lance Mackey led Hugh Neff, Allen Moore, Brent Sass, Jake Berkowitz and Sonny Lindner out of the checkpoint. KUAC’s Emily Schwing reports on what the frontrunners were thinking in Eagle.

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