- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Sept. 28, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: News of potential for Cook Inlet natural gas delivery is welcome

News last week that a Texas-based company is looking to ship natural gas north from Cook Inlet to the Interior likely came as a surprise to many Fairbanks residents. After all, the state and Interior municipal governments are already well down the path toward commitment to a natural gas trucking plan that would require a liquefaction plant on the North Slope and trucking to Fairbanks - plans and financing for the plant are already underway.

Still, WesPac Midstream told residents Sept. 22 that they can deliver gas to the “city gate” - that is, to whatever storage and distribution that local utilities build as part of the Interior Energy Project - for an estimated $14.50 per thousand cubic feet. That’s only slightly more than the estimated delivered cost for gas via the trucking project, and considerable work and investment must be done to firm up those costs. If construction, trucking or distribution costs come in higher than expected, the trucking project’s estimated gas cost could well rise above that of WesPac.

News that Cook Inlet gas may be available for the Interior might well be frustrating for those trying to figure out the best plan. On the one hand, why bother with the considerable expense of constructing the North Slope liquefaction plant and burning through a lot of state funds and loan guarantees if there’s an easier option with access by both a higher-quality road and the Alaska Railroad? On the other, if Cook Inlet really has so much extra gas that they’re looking to ship it to the Interior, how come no one approached local leaders to apprise them of that option before now?

In fact, though, having competing proposals for gas is good news for the Interior, and the community would be wise to keep moving forward with eyes open toward either solution being the ultimate vehicle for gas delivery. After all, having two options means that if costs from the North Slope creep upward, or if Cook Inlet supply dwindles and WesPac can’t secure a contract for guaranteed gas, the Interior will still have the other proposal as a means to guarantee a lower-cost supply of natural gas for area-wide distribution.

While construction efforts for distribution are already well underway, as evidenced by crews working at locations around town, there are still plenty of moving pieces left to be locked down in determining the best and most cost-effective solution for Interior energy relief. From financing for the plant construction, trucking options, as well as a program to help residents with the cost of changing over to gas heat, many factors could still influence the final cost of gas when it’s delivered to residents, now forecast for late 2016.

For that reason, it’s good to have multiple supply options. There’s a reason why the old saying warns against having all your eggs in one basket.

___

Sept. 26, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Despite UA’s recent veto of 4 percent hike, price of higher education is rising

The reasons were varied, but the outcome was clear: no tuition increase in the 2015-16 academic year for University of Alaska students.

Perhaps the majority of regents who voted earlier this month against UA President Pat Gamble’s proposed 4 percent increase flinched because of the public pushback against the raise they gave - and later rescinded - to President Gamble.

We don’t know for certain, but what we do know is this: If the revenue from the proposed tuition increase was so needed, it will either have to be raised elsewhere or more reductions will have to be made.

What other choices could there be?

The tuition increase was to have raised about $4 million in 2015-16. That’s no small sum when laid against the $26 million budget shortfall that the UA system was confronted with this fiscal year, which began July 1. Of that total, a $12 million shortage was assigned to the Fairbanks campus. To deal with it, UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers in late June announced several individual reductions as well as broad funding cutbacks of 3 percent to 6 percent for most components of the campus.

The shortfall, at least at UAF, was attributed to increased fixed costs, reduced funding from the Legislature, no increase in federal research funding and a decline in tuition revenue. The drop in tuition revenue was a result of, according to a memo from Chancellor Rogers to “a combination of low tuition rate increases and declining enrollment .”

System wide, enrollment is down 5.6 percent from spring 2010, according to a UA report from the end of the 2013-2014 academic year. Students are, however, generally taking more courses, helping offset the enrollment decline.

Tuition has become an increasingly volatile subject for students at UA, where rates have about doubled in the past decade. Regents last approved a tuition increase in November, for the current academic year, voting 8-2 to raise rates by $6 per credit for resident undergraduate courses and $12 per credit for resident graduate courses.

That increase followed an increase in the prior academic year. President Gamble, to his credit, has made an effort to keep increases to a minimum. A UA news release in November announcing regents’ approval of the current tuition rates boasted that the university’s tuition rates were some of the lowest among public universities in the 15 Western states.

But President Gamble himself appeared troubled, in that November news release, about turning to tuition as a way to deal with budget troubles. “Tuition should be the last place we go when trying to balance the budget,” he said.

Nevertheless, he would go on to propose another increase, the one subsequently rejected by the regents at their meeting earlier this month.

Now what?

The outlook for increased federal funding seems dire. And the tuition increase has rightly been shelved. Cuts are being made on all campuses.

That leaves Gov. Sean Parnell and the Legislature as the providers of a solution.

The Fairbanks region, home to UAF and the headquarters of the University of Alaska system, has a particular interest in what happens next. Ensuring the university doesn’t wither through financial neglect will require a vigorous, coordinated and

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