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Permanent Fund earnings proposed for building in-state gas line

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

JUNEAU -- House Speaker Mike Chenault introduced a bill Monday calling for a statewide advisory vote on using Alaska Permanent Fund investment profits to build an in-state pipeline bringing North Slope natural gas to the Railbelt.

Such a pipeline is seen by legislators as a backup if the proposed big natural gas pipeline to the Lower 48 isn't built anytime soon.

The most commonly discussed route for an in-state gas pipeline is from the North Slope down the Parks Highway to Point Mackenzie area, and the project is estimated to cost at least $4 billion.

If Chenault's House Bill 312 passes, voters in the August primary election would be asked:

"After paying annual dividends to residents and inflation-proofing the Alaska permanent fund, should permanent fund investment earnings be appropriated to help pay the costs of constructing an in-state natural gas pipeline?"

Chenault, a Nikiski Republican, said he thinks a majority of voters would agree to use earnings from the $34 billion state savings account for the project. He said people in Alaska want to have the cheaper energy.

"If that's the way we have to move to get a project built in this state, then I think the state should be involved," Chenault said.

Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, didn't seem excited about Chenault's bill, saying new bills are introduced all the time and he hasn't looked this one over yet.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski said he wants to see the implications for the Permanent Fund and the annual dividend payments to Alaskans, but he is skeptical of using the money for an in-state pipeline. "I'm always very concerned about using Permanent Fund earnings for particular investments," he said.

Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham.

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By SEAN COCKERHAM
scockerham@adn.com