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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

In one of its first steps, Gov. Bill Walker’s fledgling administration is reviewing a recommendation by its predecessor to offer temporary royalty relief to Caelus Energy Alaska, a complex decision that supporters say could cost the state tens of millions of dollars but bring in more than $1 billion in the next three decades.

A critic of the idea, Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said at a public hearing Tuesday he’s hopeful Walker will reverse the preliminary finding for the independent oil company, which hopes to pursue production at the difficult-to-develop Nuna project on Alaska's North Slope.

If Caelus is successful, oil is expected to flow from the field for 30 years, with production peaking at about 15,000 barrels a day...

Alex DeMarban

With more than 15 years’ experience as an elected official, Gov. Sean Parnell has helped steer the state through good times and bad. But after losing his re-election bid to Gov.-elect Bill Walker on Nov. 4, he plans to look for opportunities in the private sector.

As an Anchorage senator in the late 1990s, Parnell helped bring the state through a daunting fiscal challenge when the price of oil cratered and Alaska’s savings were vanishing, a situation that has cycled back to the forefront of issues facing the state today...

Alex DeMarban

State lawmakers, legislative staff and gas line consultants who signed a confidentiality agreement related to the big Alaska LNG project received closed-door updates from the outgoing administration the day after Thanksgiving.

The Anchorage meetings of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, permitted in the project’s legal framework, also included a short public update from the administration outlining key steps Gov.-elect Bill Walker and the Legislature will be expected to take to keep the project on track next year...

Alex DeMarban

Incoming governor Bill Walker continued to flesh out his cabinet on Tuesday, announcing new appointments as the clock ticked toward Monday's inauguration, including naming his law partner Craig Richards as attorney general.

Richards, 39, will replace Michael Geraghty, who became attorney general for outgoing Gov. Sean Parnell in 2012.

Richards has focused on issues including “natural gas project development, finance, taxation, and oil and gas leasing,” said a statement from Walker’s staff.

“I have worked alongside Craig Richards for more than a decade,” Walker said. “I trust his judgment and admire his ability to quickly and thoroughly analyze complex legal issues. He will be a strong addition to my administration."...

Alex DeMarban

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