PUBLISHED: 11:35 AM on Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Legislative Roundup
Permafund eyes pipeline

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. trustees may consider investing a portion of its $33 billion fund in a future natural gas pipeline from the North Slope.

The notion, first reported by the independent newsletter The Alaska Budget Report, came at the request of state Revenue Commissioner Bill Corbus.

Corbus confirmed the report Thursday, saying he asked the corporation to look at a potential investment, but did not have a dollar amount in mind. The overall financing plan for the pipeline is still being worked out, he said.

"We want them to become familiar with the ins and outs of the gas pipeline and the potential that there may be a role (for them) to help finance it," Corbus said.

Gov. Frank Murkowski has proposed the state own up to 20 percent of a gas pipeline, the cost of which has been estimated between $20 billion and $25 billion. That would put the state's share at up to $4 billion to $5 billion.

The fund's executive director, Mike Burns, said he and his staff are preparing to hire an adviser to evaluate a pipeline investment. That adviser would determine whether an investment would be considered prudent and whether it would fit with the fund's overall investment portfolio.

"The trustees are obligated by statute to follow the prudent investor rule, so it has to be prudent," Burns said.

The fund receives 25 percent of the state's oil revenue. Additional growth comes from returns on its investments, most of which are in domestic stocks and bonds, but also include real estate, hedge funds, private equity and foreign stocks and bonds.

Alaska residents receive a portion of the fund's earnings each year in dividends. Since 1982, the permanent fund has doled out $13.6 billion in dividends. Last year, each dividend check was worth $845.76.

Bill 'tough on pharmacists'

Alaska's pharmacists are at the center of a debate over a bill aimed at curbing production of methamphetamines and making any possession of marijuana illegal.

An amendment added to House Bill 149 on Thursday would enable the state Public Safety commissioner to restrict sales of other over-the-counter drugs besides Sudafed, which already is included in the legislation.

A bill with good intentions to hit the meth manufacturers has now become "anti-business," said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau. "It's gone from being tough on criminals to being tough on pharmacists."

Lawmakers were scrambling to rewrite amendments that might put pharmacists at ease. The bill was delayed on the Senate floor Monday, Jan. 23, while up for reconsideration.

Nancy Davis, executive director of the Alaska Pharmacists Association, said her group has no problems with restricting the sale of Sudafed because people are abusing it. In fact, many shops across the state are already keeping their Sudafed behind the counter.

Caren Robinson, a lobbyist for the group, said a Juneau pharmacist has refused to sell the medicine to suspicious people who could use it for drugs. Occasionally, meth makers will steal it, she added.

But the group doesn't like more restrictions on over-the-counter drugs that would cut into the pharmacists' time, Davis said. The cost of these measures would be passed onto the consumer.

The bill first passed Thursday 17-1, with Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, dissenting. He didn't like the portion concerning marijuana, which was tacked on earlier this month.

"It's not about marijuana. I don't use it. I don't like it. I don't smoke it," Ellis said of his decision. "It's about the right to privacy."

Senate Bill 74 was designed to reopen a 31-year-old court ruling that the state constitution allows Alaskans to keep up to 4 ounces of marijuana in their homes.

The bill called for criminalizing all marijuana possession, dishing out misdemeanors for those with less than 4 ounces and felonies for those who had more than that.

The House of Representatives will have the opportunity to alter the bill with amendments when it arrives for a concurrence vote, said Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez. It will not go through committees, as HB 149 as a meth bill already passed through the process.

Not 'going up'

Those who frequented the Capitol last week may be stepping on the scales to see if they are a few pounds lighter.

In the evenings of Jan. 17 and 18, the building's two public elevators broke down, leaving only the stairs to reach the building's five floors.

"It's certainly humbled me. I thought I was in pretty good shape," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

Traffic jams formed in the stairway and unwritten rules applied for people to stay to the right, said Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer. Chairs were placed between each flight of stairs, so people could rest.

One worker said by the time people reach the Senate Finance Committee chamber on the fifth floor they're too winded to talk.

"The only ones not out of breath are the Girl Scouts," said Wilma Laughlin, Senate majority information officer.

Building manager Don Johnston said during his 21-year tenure at the Capitol he's never seen both elevators break down at the same time.

A sealed, greaseless bearing failed, causing the first elevator's motor to fry and puff some smoke, which set off the fire alarms late in the evening, Johnston said. The second elevator's motor expired the following evening, but Johnston said the cause remains unknown.

Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said he expects to see an appropriation in the budget later this year for new elevator equipment.

"There's a lot more conversation on the stairs than there ever was on the elevator," said Gatto, looking on the bright side. The triathlon medalist wryly suggested shutting down the elevators every Tuesday to inspire others to get in shape.

Reported by the Juneau Empire