Alaskans Vote to Keep Oil Dividend

ANCHORAGE--Balancing the state budget is less attractive to Alaskans than keeping the annual dividend each man, woman and child receives from the state's oil-royalty savings account.

Voters on Tuesday rejected a plan to divide the earnings of the $26 billion Alaska Permanent Fund between state spending and the fund's popular annual dividend.

With all precincts reporting, 83 percent of voters rejected the plan, confirming a long-held belief in Alaska politics: Politicians who try to touch the dividend are courting disaster.

The vote means Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles and the Republican-controlled Legislature, who put the plan on the ballot, must try again to find a new way to fill the gap between state spending and normal revenue. The state gets most of its operating money from taxes and royalties on oil production, while Alaskans pay no state income tax and no state sales tax.

A decline in oil revenue has forced sharp cuts in the state budget, but the fund--and the dividend--have grown in the booming stock market.

The plan before voters would have cut the dividend to about $1,340 in 2001. Last year's payout was $1,540, and this year's is expected to exceed $1,700.

Atlanta Baptists Fight Ouster Over Gays

ATLANTA--A church known for its openness to homosexuals vowed yesterday to fight an attempt to oust its congregation from the Georgia Baptist Convention, the church's pastor said.

The Georgia Baptist Convention executive committee voted Tuesday to oust Oakhurst Baptist as part of the 1998 Southern Baptist Convention's decision to cut ties with churches that condone homosexuality.

"We are sending a letter to other churches in Georgia to tell them that their decision is un-Baptist," said the Rev. Lanny Peters, pastor of Oakhurst Baptist. "Our strong belief is that the freedom of the soul and individual rights is the core of the Baptist religion."

Oakhurst Baptist, founded in 1913, was one of the few southern U.S. Baptist churches to accept blacks in the 1960s and the first to ordain women as clergy.

Bill Merrell, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, welcomed the recommendation to oust Oakhurst and said other churches may soon be targeted.

"This is not a move against homosexuals, but the SBC wants to send a clear, ungarbled message," Merrell said. "Churches should not change the Scriptures and should not endorse sinful behavior."

Judge Calls U.S. to Task on Mobster Deal

BOSTON--A federal judge refused to throw out a racketeering indictment against a mobster-turned-informer but said the case can go forward only if the government can prove it was as faithful to their deal as he was.

Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi's agreement with the FBI did not grant him all-encompassing immunity, U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf ruled.

Wolf said Flemmi relied on FBI assurances that any evidence intercepted through wiretaps Flemmi participated in for the bureau would not be used against him.

"Flemmi performed his part of the bargain," Wolf wrote. "The government claims that it should not be required to provide Flemmi the benefit of that bargain."

The government contends that any agreement that Flemmi had with the FBI was invalid because he committed many serious crimes--including murder--but did not tell the FBI.