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KNBA NEWS - President Obama to visit Alaska; Mayor Ethan Berkowitz halts costly software update

Aug 13, 2015

President Obama to focus on climate change during a visit to Alaska

By Monica Gokey, KSKA – Anchorage

President Obama is visiting Alaska later this month. Thursday morning the president explained why in a video on his upcoming visit.  

“I’m going because Alaskans are on the front lines of one of the greatest challenges we face this century – climate change. You see, climate change once seemed like a problem for future generations. “

But, he says, climate change is a reality, and its effects are apparent across the country, including Alaska.

“In Alaska, glaciers are melting,” said Obama. “The hunting and fishing upon which generations have depended—for their way of life, and for their jobs—are threatened. Storm surges once held at bay now endanger entire villages,” he continued. “As Alaskan permafrost melts, some homes are even sinking into the ground.  The state’s God-given natural treasures are at risk.”

President Obama will travel outside Anchorage, making him the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Alaska Arctic. He is scheduled to speak in Anchorage on August 31 at a state department summit called to discuss climate change with representatives from other Arctic nations. To see the video, go to whitehouse.gov/Alaska.

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Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz halts runaway software project

By Zacharia Hughes, APRN

A massive software project that's run millions of dollars and years over original expectations was halted Thursday by Anchorage's new mayor. The move is meant to reexamine the city's path forward, but won't totally shut off money for the project.

Implementing the SAP software across the municipality's offices is--to put it mildly--a pretty giant mess. There are a lot of unflattering numbers associated with the program's over-runs. When former mayor Dan Sullivan's administration announced the project in 2011 it was forecast to cost $10.6 million, and take just a year-and-a-half to come online. But Assembly Member Elvi Gray-Jackson ran through a much different timeline at the start of a committee meeting.

"September 2014: project now two years behind schedule,” said Gray-Jackson. “Budget is 31.4 million, tripling the projected cost."

Currently, it costs the city 50 thousand dollars a day to pay for employees, consultants, and office space--all without a clear end date. So, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced his administration has decided to take what he's calling "a pause."

"At this juncture the responsible course of action for us to follow is to take a pause,” said Berkowitz, “assess where we are, make a determination what options we're going to have moving ahead."

The length of that pause has yet to be determined. It will cost the city several hundred thousand dollars just shutting down current operations--that is, paying consultants as their jobs wind down, keeping up with rent payments, and other obligations. No city employees are losing work; they'll all be reassigned internally.

This is the third time the SAP project has been put on hold. And Assembly member Amy Demboski--who was critical of the last administration's spending on the project--reminded the new administration that the longer the pause, the more costly it is to resume operations down the line. Asked whether full termination was a possibility, Berkowtiz replied, "We're gonna be reviewing all options."

The administration has recruited a team of 7 Alaskans mostly from the private sector to review the project.

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Poll shows Alaskan support for taxes, caps to PFD, other revenues for state

By Phillip Manning, KTNA – Talkeetna

Thursday, the Rasmuson Foundation released the results of a poll gauging Alaskans' knowledge of the state's budget shortfall and their opinions on how to deal with it. 

The poll was conducted in mid-to-late July by the firm Strategies 360. It had a sample size of just over 1,200 people. Eighty-five percent of respondents said they had heard about the state's multi-billion dollar shortfall. More than 30 percent mentioned the economy and state budget as issues the legislature and governor should address.

However, two thirds showed low levels of trust in elected state officials to “do the right thing for Alaska residents.” Governor Bill Walker fared better than the state legislature in the poll, with an approval rating of fifty-three percent. Legislators, collectively, received an approval rating of just less than one-third.

When it comes to solving the state budget problem, a majority of Alaskans polled say that some form of new revenue is necessary, and many believe it should accompany budget cuts.  The Rasmuson poll presented sales tax, income tax, reduction in oil tax credits, capping the Permanent Fund Dividend, and use of the Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve as potential revenue streams for the state.  Of those, only a personal state income tax saw majority disapproval.