Sen. Murkowski eNewsletter 04/18/2008


I welcome the settlement in the pension case of Alaska Guardsman Robert Traut. Traut was granted full back pay and restored benefits after being denied reemployment by the Department of Health and Human Services in June 2000 after returning from a tour of active duty in the Alaska Air National Guard.

Traut, who worked in Anchorage before going on active duty with the Guard, was reemployed by the federal government as a supply technician at Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak in January 2006 some five and one half years after asserting his reemployment rights under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Despite his reemployment, Traut was still denied pay and benefits for the period during which he was unemployed. It took more than two additional years to reach a final negotiated settlement with the assistance of the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency which was brought in to represent Traut at my insistence. All in all it took more than 90 months for Traut to receive the relief he was guaranteed by law.

We must ensure that our returning National Guard and Reserve members are able to quickly recover their jobs and benefits. This case has shown that there are real problems with how guardsmen are treated when returning to civilian life after serving their country on active duty. It adds insult to injury that the federal government is the bad actor. First, the federal government wrongfully denied reemployment and then the federal government forced him to suffer unacceptable delays in the processing and resolution of his claim. No guard member should have to wait 90 days, much less 90 months, to gain the benefits they are guaranteed by law.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel's press release on Robert Traut's case can be found here.


The Senate recently approved a housing aid bill aimed at helping struggling homeowners. The legislation includes the following:

Tax Credit for Foreclosure Home Purchases: A tax credit over two years of up to $7,000 to help purchasers to buy foreclosed homes.

Standard Property Tax Deduction: A provision likely to help some Alaskans that allows taxpayers who pay property taxes, but do not itemize their deductions on federal tax forms to take either a $500 (for single filers) or a $1,000 (joint filers) deduction.

Mortgage Revenue Bonds: Adds $10 billion to the amount available in tax exempt mortgage revenue bonds to refinance subprime loans, for mortgages for first-time homebuyers and to assist with multifamily rental housing. This will assist the Alaska Housing Finance Corp.

Housing Counseling: The bill provides $100 million more for housing counseling to help families stay in their current homes. The bill also improves mortgage disclosure requirements nationwide and in Alaska.

Community Development Block Grant Aid: Provides roughly $4 billion to local communities that have been hardest hit by the slump in the housing market to buy and renovate foreclosed homes to stabilize neighborhoods.

Net Operating Loss Provision: Allows businesses to spread net operating losses over four years instead of two to help the housing industry recoup more of their losses over the past few years.


After a three year effort, I won final approval for a study of Alaska's water resources first proposed in 2005. The Alaska Water Resources Act, co-sponsored by Senator Ted Stevens, passed the Senate as part of a large consolidated lands bill, the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008.

This bill requires federal agencies to conduct systematic studies of our water resources. These studies are important to support the Railbelt's growing population and are vital for everything from fire fighting to natural resource production. Alaska depends increasingly on the health of its aquifers to supply potable water, but has very little information about its groundwater supplies.


I continue to support the residents of King Cove in their efforts to win approval of a land trade that will add 61,000 acres of key wildlife habitat to the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. This trade would permit a short road to be built across the edge of the refuge linking King Cove to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay.

Many residents of King Cove have been stranded in emergency situations, unable to access the airport just across the bay due to inclement weather. The proposed road to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay, through the refuge, would be narrow and unobtrusive. I believe that the exchange of 206 acres for a potentially life-saving road for the 61,723 acres the King Cove Corporation and State of Alaska are offering the federal government is more than fair.

Earlier this year I introduced S.1680, a bill that allows the land exchange to take place, at the request of the people of King Cove. It directs a land exchange among the State of Alaska, the King Cove Native Corporation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will enable the construction of a road between the towns of Cold Bay and King Cove. Cold Bay is currently accessible only via watercraft from King Cove, and that form of transport is often impossible given the bay's treacherous 20-foot seas. The proposed road around the lagoon would only cross seven miles of the existing designated wilderness area. It is being proposed after the hovercraft purchased to provide the service has proven unreliable given mechanical problems in the high seas and significant maintenance costs.


As part of the economic stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this year, eligibile individuals who file federal tax returns will begin receiving economic stimulus payments on May 2, 2008. Click here to access an on-line calculator to determine if you are eligible to receive an economic stimulus payment.

Stimulus Payment Schedule for Tax Returns

Received and Processed by April 15

Direct Deposit Payments

If the last two digits of your Social Security number are:
Your economic stimulus payment deposit should be sent to your bank account by:

00 - 20
May 2

21 - 75
May 9

76 - 99
May 16

Paper Check

If the last two digits of your Social Security number are:
Your check should be in the mail by:

00 - 09
May 16

10 - 18
May 23

19 - 25
May 30

26 - 38
June 6

39 - 51
June 13

52 - 63
June 20

64 - 75
June 27

76 - 87
July 4

88 - 99
July 11


The Senate, as part of the housing aid package, also approved an amendment, which I co-sponsored with Senator Stevens, that extends renewable energy tax credits.

In order to expand alternative energy development it is vital that we provide consistent tax assistance to help renewable energy become cost-competitive. This legislation will be of special assistance in Alaska, where we have a variety of renewable energy projects, from the Fire Island wind farm to geothermal projects at Chena Hot Springs and Naknek, which are awaiting financing.

Under this legislation homeowners and businesses can gain tax credits for energy efficiency improvements, such as installing and buying Energy Star appliances. The amendment also extends for another year the ability of local governments to issue up to $1.2 billion of Clean Renewable Energy Bonds to help finance renewable projects nationwide.

The legislation extends the Production Tax Credit worth 1.9 cents per kilowatt hour through 2009 for all renewable energy projects including wind, biomass, geothermal, small irrigation power, landfill gas, trash combustion and some types of hydropower facilities. The amendment also extends a 30 percent business energy tax credit for installing solar and fuel cell power plants, extends the 10 percent residential tax credit for installing microturbines and extends the tax credit for installation of some solar hot water heaters. For the first time the production tax credit is extended to also cover ocean energy when the project is part owned by electrical utilities.


I am co-sponsoring legislation that will increase educational benefits in an effort to ensure that military veterans are able to cover rapidly rising college costs.

It is important that we increase the size of the G.I. Bill benefits so that they keep pace with increasing college costs. We owe it to our veterans to ensure that once they leave the military higher education is within their reach. This is one way for us to show our deepest appreciation for their service to our country.

The Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (S.22), sponsored by Senator Jim Webb and Senator John Warner, will increase educational benefits so they cover established program charges, up to the cost of the most expensive-instate public college, plus provide a monthly stipend (roughly $1,000 a month) equivalent to local housing costs. The bill also allows additional payments for tutorial assistance, as well as licensure and certification tests.

The bill also creates a new program in which the government will agree to match, dollar for dollar, any voluntary additional contributions to veterans from institutions whose tuition is more expensive than the maximum education assistance provided by the new bill. It also will expand to 15 years from 10 years the time after leaving the military veterans have to use benefits.

To read an Anchorage Daily News editorial on my support of this legislation click here.