Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The state's Department of Education and Early Development will likely face the steepest cuts of any department, said Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, a key player in education policy in the Alaska Senate.

Dunleavy chairs both the policy-setting Senate Education Committee and the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee's subcommittee handling the department's budget.

That subcommittee on Friday produced a budget proposal calling for $15.5 million less for the department than last year and cuts larger than the House of Representatives made earlier...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Republican Eagle River Rep. Lora Reinbold has dominated the news cycle with her symbolic, caucus-busting vote against a state operating budget she considers bloated.

“It's a budget that simply does not reflect the crisis at hand,” she explained later...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Environmental groups announced Thursday that they were appealing the Big Thorne timber sale, the U.S. Forest Service's biggest Tongass National Forest sale in years. The agency said it was disappointed that the sale it had spent years preparing was again being challenged.

"It's just another legal roadblock that's really putting a wrench in us getting to our transition to young growth," said Kent Cummins, a Ketchikan-based spokesperson for the Forest Service's Tongass office.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council and several other groups have sued to block the Big Thorne sale but federal judge Ralph Beistline last week rejected their challenge...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- David Teal knows that people often don't like to hear what he's got to say. But he had a packed house Thursday to hear him talk about the state budget.

"As a practical matter, you simply cannot cut your way to a sustainable budget," said Teal, the Alaska Legislature's top budget expert. He's director of the Legislative Finance Division and one of the most knowledgeable observers of the state's financial situation.

Teal's look at options for Alaska to get out of its $3.5 billion budget deficit has previously been made behind closed doors to legislators but House Finance Committee co-chair Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, invited the public to an informational presentation from Teal on Thursday...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The budget roller coaster ride is continuing for Alaska's ferry system in the Alaska Senate.

This time, a subcommittee that contained both of Southeast's senators was unable to stave off the cuts.

Gov. Bill Walker first proposed cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System, the "road" for numerous coastal and island communities, and the House of Representatives cut even further.

Now, the ferry system's budget has begun working its way through the Senate, where a subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday cut an additional $6 million from the system's $152 million unrestricted general fund budget...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- With state budgets under stress, lawmakers looking to keep up the spending are searching in new places for money to keep their favorite programs going. In some cases that may mean they'll be spending money that was approved before but hasn't yet been used.

That's called “reappropriation,” or sometimes “clawback,” where legislators take back money that was appropriated in past sessions. In other cases, they're looking at money appropriated for endowment-type funds in which earnings are expected to provide ongoing program funding...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Legislature on Friday marked its 60th legislative day, making it either two-thirds of the way through the maximum 90-day session put in statute by voters in 2006, or halfway through the 120-day limit called for in the Alaska Constitution.

But no one can say for sure when the Legislature will adjourn.

"I think 90 days is still a target -- everybody's still shooting for it," said Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, the eternally optimistic majority leader in the Senate.

But even Coghill notes while it is possible to complete the Legislature's work on key issues such as the budget, clashes with Gov. Bill Walker on gas line issues and Medicaid expansion could complicated that effort...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The U.S. Forest Service's biggest Tongass National Forest timber sale in years, the Big Thorne sale on Prince of Wales Island, has been approved by a federal judge who Friday rejected challenges from environmental groups.

Among the claims of the groups challenging the timber sale were that the Forest Service overestimated the demand for timber from Southeast Alaska and that the Big Thorne sale would harm the Alexander Archipelago wolf and other species that rely on the forest.

But U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline upheld the sale, rejecting the claims of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and nine other groups, brought in two lawsuits he merged for his decision...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A public advocacy group has given Alaska an F grade in openness and transparency of government information, but state officials say some of the criticism is not merited.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group and its Alaska affiliate released its latest "Following the Money" report this week, ranking state efforts to show citizens how their money is being spent.

Alaska's Checkbook Online website was state of the art when the transparency website was first introduced by Gov. Sarah Palin, but these days it doesn't measure up, the group said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- State reimbursement for much of the cost of Anchorage's new school bonds was thrown into doubt Tuesday when the Senate's Education Committee made retroactive a bill that would eliminate state reimbursement for new bond issues, such as the one voters will decide in April.

"It broke my heart; I've never voted against school bonds," said Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, who said she reluctantly supported the proposal out of fairness to other cities but acknowledged it may threaten the bond election...

Pat Forgey