Day 25: Scattered debris
Like so many debris on scattered on sea ice, it's a little scattered this week.
Happy Friday, Alaska. It’s Day 25.
It’s a scattershot edition: A mysterious unidentified object was shot down north of the North Slope this morning, which I am not at all qualified to report on with any seriousness so let’s look at some silly jokes about it; the Mat-Su bus strike escalates; aspirational education funding continues to dwindle; the House Education Committee has been off to a reasonably normal start, but co-chair Jamie Allard is pledging to make things acrimonious. Also, the reading list and weekend watching.
Current mood: 👾
Congratulations to: Brent Sass for his fifth Yukon Quest win
Air Force shoots down ‘unknown object’ off Arctic coast, which posed civilian risk
This morning, we got some odd news about closed airspace up on the North Slope that quickly turned into another page in the balloon saga. A bit later, the White House confirmed that an F-22 from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson was sent up to the North Slope to shoot down an unidentified object off the Arctic coast. We still don’t know all that much about it, but officials have been clear that it at least wasn’t the same as the Chinese spy balloon that’s dominated headlines.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has been more willing to pass on whatever details he can: Basically, they’re not really sure what the object was but they know it was moving about 46 miles per hour, didn’t have wings and was “between a 55 gallon drum and a small Volkswagen” in size. The decision to shoot this one down, rather than letting it drift across the country again, is that it was floating much lower and could potentially create a problem for planes.
Sullivan said this event and the balloon that just traversed the country before being shot down weren’t the first.
“There were things that were seen on radar but weren’t explained,” he said, “so I don’t know what they were, but I think our military is trying to figure that out as well.”
Spooky! Anyway, this is all well above my expertise so for some real-deal reporting on the issue, the Alaska Beacon has been following this well:
Sullivan: ‘Several other unidentified objects’ also traveled over Alaska
After China balloon scare, Air Force shoots down object flying above Alaska’s North Slope
If you’re looking for some silly jokes on it, though, continue on!
From Alaska Reverend Matthew Schultz:
From my former colleague at the Oregonian:
And, finally, the NYTimes Pitchbot:
Mat-Su bus strike escalates
The bus driver strike in the Mat-Su Valley escalated today with Teamsters Local 959 filing multiple labor practice charges against Durham School Services, the bus operator that was already docked $1.5 million for failing to hit its contract with the district. The complaints essentially boil down to accusations that Durham School Services has been bargaining in bad faith, failing to provide the union with information about a whole slew of issues, including safety concerns. It seems that the final straw was the company’s public statement that a new offer had been provided to the union, when the union says that no such offer was actually made and that Durham ended the negotiations early.
The House Education Committee agenda
The House Education Committee, co-chaired by incendiary former Anchorage Assemblymember Jamie Allard, finally started meeting this week by covering topics that were about as far away from school funding as possible. Things have, so far, been relatively normal and straightforward under the direction of the committee’s other co-chair, the increasingly reasonable-sounding Soldotna Republican Rep. Justin Ruffridge. The committee will finally be hearing about the BSA next Friday, but social media observer Don, aka @wormeguy on Twitter, brings this dispatch from Allard if you need an idea of what might be in the near future.
Education funding continues to dwindle
"We're working with a 10-year plan, but if you go broke in year five you don't have to worry about year 10 because you're out of business. I think the committee will be focusing in on not having that happen." - Sen. Bert Stedman.
Ever since oil prices fell well below the rosy forecast of last spring, the forward funding for education contained in the operating budget has continued to dwindle seemingly by the meeting. Once standing around $1.2 billion, we opened up the legislative session with it at $49.2 million. Once the state’s supplemental budget was factored in, covering the unexpected/un-budgeted costs of the current fiscal year, that number fell to $29.2 million.
At a Senate Finance Committee hearing this week, the Legislative Finance Division gave its overview of the budget that is typically the more trusted figure in the building and, surprise, the number is probably closer to about $9 million.
Why it matters: Once oil prices retreated from their highs of the last year, forward funding was always going to be a fraction of a drop in the bucket. Still, I think it’s worthwhile thing to track because it encapsulates just how fleeting our budgetary aspirations can be.
Also: While the Senate continues its many hearings on education funding and its proposed increase to the BSA, Ketchikan non-partisan Rep. Dan Ortiz introduced his own increase that would boost the per-student funding formula by $1,250. “Our students and teachers deserve better,” he said. “A BSA increase will reduce class sizes, give students the resources they need, and recruit and maintain good teachers.”
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The Alaska Senate yanked legislation that would have changed how property taxes are collected on oil and gas properties that have been sold through a bankruptcy proceeding, which would have benefited a single company. From the ADN: Alaska Senate hastily withdraws bill pushed by single producer to cut oil and gas taxes
Alaska’s criminal justice system is facing a dire lack of attorneys on pretty much all fronts, which is playing a big role in the state’s slow handling of the backlog of criminal trials. Now they’re considering lowering the bar of the bar exam, which might sound bad if the state didn’t already have the highest score requirement of any that use the test. From the ADN: Attorney group seeks to grow its ranks by lowering Alaska’s bar exam standard
After a nearly three-year closure of courthouse weddings, things are finally opening back up for those looking to tie the knot (also, on a personal note, my partner and I met at jury selection). From the Alaska Beacon: Weddings are resuming at Alaska courthouses — here’s how to get married in Alaska
The Alaska State Troopers look like they’ll beat Anchorage to deploying body-worn cameras. From the Alaska Beacon: Alaska State Troopers will soon be wearing body cameras. The public can comment on what the rules will be.
An Anchorage middle school is helping families out as they grapple with the food stamp backlog, but the takeaway message is that it isn’t a sustainable solution and the state really, really needs to get around to fixing it. From Alaska Public: As state grapples with food stamp backlog, an Anchorage middle school steps up to feed families
An interesting look at where the candidates for East Anchorage’s assembly seats stood on redistricting. From the Alaska Current: OPINION: One Candidate Testified in Favor of a Gerrymander. The Other Fought in a Lawsuit Against It.
As a kid with Mexican grandmas and aunts, and a poor handle on Spanish, Pedro Pascal’s appearance on SNL this weekend hit really close to home.
Have a nice weekend, y’all.