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Alex DeMarban

A North Slope oil field worker who argued that state and federal laws didn't apply to him, and who squirreled away hundreds of thousands of dollars while dodging taxes, has been sentenced in U.S. District Court in Anchorage to 16 months in prison and must pay a $10,000 fine plus $113,000 in back taxes.

James R. Back, 60, of Soldotna, must also cover $17,000 in costs associated with his prosecution, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler.

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline issued the sentence, with the prison term to be followed by a year of supervised release...

Alex DeMarban

Gov. Bill Walker submitted a proposed $106 million capital budget to the Legislature on Monday, a spending plan designed to help the state weather a $3.5 billion deficit and one that’s a fraction of what the state has spent on capital projects in recent years.

Walker also submitted the $5.3 billion operating budget given to him by his predecessor, Gov. Sean Parnell.

Both budgets may see revisions before Feb. 18, though significant increases seem unlikely, with the collapsing price of oil already squeezing a state budget that relies almost entirely on petroleum production...

Alex DeMarban

Bill Walker recently became Alaska's governor under some of the worst possible conditions, with plunging oil prices tossing the budget into record-deficit territory.

Now, he and state legislators are scrambling to find savings for a potential $7 billion loss over two years, a gap so huge that every man, woman and child in the state would have to cough up more than $9,000 to close it...

Alex DeMarban

Despite a devastating slump in oil prices and tanking state revenues, Alaska appears better off than it was during the mid-1980s economic crash because state savings accounts remain massive and the $51 billion Permanent Fund is a critical safety net that is much larger today, observers say.

Today, the state holds more than $12 billion in savings that the Legislature can easily access -- contained in the Constitutional Budget Reserve and the smaller Statutory Budget Reserve. That amount surpasses the entire value of the Permanent Fund in 1986, when the fund was just 10 years old and held an $8.4 billion value, said Scott Goldsmith, professor emeritus of economics at the Institute of Social and Economic Research...

Alex DeMarban

JUNEAU -- Gov. Bill Walker and legislative leaders are meeting this week to begin discussions about reducing what’s expected to be a $3.5 billion shortfall if oil prices remain low.

That deficit is currently expected for fiscal year 2016 if spending is not reduced, and would come on top of a $3.5 billion deficit expected in the current fiscal year.

If nothing is changed and those massive estimates prove true, the state expects to still hold $6.5 billion in savings in its Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund in 1 and a half years -- not counting the $51 billion Permanent Fund, said Jerry Burnett, deputy revenue commissioner...

Alex DeMarban

An Alaska Native-owned oil field support company has agreed to pay a fine after violating rules designed to prevent a spill at its fuel storage and distribution facility in Deadhorse near the Prudhoe Bay oil fields at the top of the state, according to a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency...

Alex DeMarban

Alaska's once-fat budget faces more shrinkage as the state stares down the barrel of a massive deficit.

Gov. Bill Walker on Friday released his predecessor’s proposed budget, a version that cuts state spending by $600 million from the current year, according to an analysis by the new administration.

But it sounds as if the budget will get smaller still.

Walker, who took office Monday, said he was releasing Gov. Sean Parnell's fiscal year 2016 budget -- set to start July 1 -- in order to meet a Dec. 15 deadline and because of his commitment to transparency. Walker called it a “work-in-progress” budget that he was not endorsing...

Alex DeMarban

With drones, model planes and quadcopters considered hot Christmas gifts, a legislative task force in Alaska is trying to educate the public about operational rules designed to protect pilots and their passengers in a flight-dependent state.

“We want people to enjoy this revolutionary technology, but we do not want to endanger any manned aircraft and put pilots or passengers at risk,” said Rep. Shelly Hughes, R-Palmer and co-chair of the task force on unmanned aircraft systems.

Peppered with scores of off-road villages and tiny airstrips, Alaska has the nation's highest percentage of pilots. People operating tiny drones that are increasingly inexpensive and available at stores may not know there are important rules to follow, said Hughes...

Alex DeMarban

Gov. Bill Walker’s former running mate, who stepped off the ticket to pave the way for a Walker victory, has been named the new governor’s special assistant on Arctic policy.

Craig Fleener will advise Walker on Arctic issues, said Grace Jang, spokesperson for Walker.

Fleener, a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game deputy commissioner from the village of Fort Yukon, opened the door for the formation of Walker’s successful independent ticket, when Fleener stepped aside so Walker could join forces with Democrat Byron Mallott.

The move helped the Walker-Mallott campaign win strong support from unions and Democrats -- and narrowly beat Gov. Sean Parnell last month...

Alex DeMarban

The man who caused so much trouble in August is at it again.

Ray Metcalfe, who launched the unsuccessful referendum to repeal the Alaska oil production-tax overhaul known as Senate Bill 21, has received approval from the state to begin collecting signatures for a new initiative, this one designed to prevent corruption.

The initiative proposes criminal penalties for public officials who give “competitive advantages” or steer appropriations to close associates, such as family, employers, business partners or campaign contributors. Anyone who induces a public official to commit such an act would also be subject to the same criminal penalty, a class A felony...

Alex DeMarban