Knowles signs PCE endowment

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2000

KOTZEBUE (AP) -- A bill that pours $187 million dollars into an endowment to pay the subsidies that offset high power costs in the Bush was signed into law Tuesday.

Gov. Tony Knowles traveled to Kotzebue to sign the measure, saying it would assure affordable power for rural residents.

''I think it certainly is a great investment,'' Knowles said. ''Now all of Alaska has the opportunity to have affordable power for the future.''

The measure was designed to end the annual fight in the Legislature over how to pay for Power Cost Equalization. The program lowers electrical rates in 193 communities where power is three to five times as expensive as in Alaska's urban areas.

The bill also stands as a final coup for veteran Sen. Al Adams, D-Kotzebue, who is retiring this year after 20 years in the Legislature.

''It eases the minds for people all the way from Southeast all the way up to Barrow that they don't have to worry every year,'' said Adams, who shepherded the bill to unexpected approval in the Republican-dominated Senate.

When Knowles first introduced the House Bill 447, the endowment came mostly from the sale of four state-owned hydroelectric plants and money for a stalled intertie project in Southeast Alaska. The program would still have required a yearly infusion from other sources of money.

But Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, proposed adding $100 million from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to fully capitalize the endowment and won over enough colleagues for the three-quarters vote required to tap the reserve.

Adams then helped win over enough votes in the Republican-dominated Senate. The bill was a key part of the deal that led to the Legislature's adjournment this year.

The endowment will contain nearly $187 million, an amount that will earn most of the $15.7 million annual cost of the subsidy.

Austerman and Knowles both praised the endowment as an example of bipartisan cooperation they hope will replace fights over the state's budget and thorny issues such as subsistence.

''I think the fact that it did pass really speaks of what can happen with people working together across regions, across parties,'' Knowles said. ''We can get the kind of things done that we need to get done.''

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