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Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov. Bill Walker says that at current oil prices Alaska can no longer afford its film subsidy program, an attempt to diversify the state’s economy by building a film and television industry.

But interviews with those in the industry, and with officials in charge of the state tax credit program that’s intended to provide incentives to the industry, suggest that the state has already quietly stopped the program...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Walker administration intends to open a new era of relations between tribal and other governments that will have them working together to improve Alaskans’ lives, said Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, the first Alaska Native to hold such a statewide office.

Mallott told a packed Native Issues Forum in Juneau on Thursday that they will be doing more than working together, in some cases joining to provide better services.

“We're going to embed relationships with tribal governments in everything we do,” he said.

Mallott is a former co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives and leader of Sealaska Corp., the regional Alaska Native corporation for Southeast...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- For years, the best way for visitors and newcomers to Alaska to learn about the place was to find a self-proclaimed “Alaskan” in a bar on a state ferry, buy a round of drinks and listen to the tall tales.

Before the rise of cruise ships in Alaska waters, independent travelers packed ferries during the summer, while in the winter it was mostly residents, new and old, using the ferries and meeting in the bars.

In the winter, ferry bars were also where adults could hang out and avoid the groups of school kids and sports teams traveling between cities.

But now, the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities says it can no longer afford to keep subsidizing money-losing ferry bars, and will close them this year...

Pat Forgey

A canceled Alaska ferry dock project in the Canadian port of Prince Rupert has been a focus of a high-level dispute over U.S.-Canada trade policy, but Alaska officials say Canada’s stance on the project will mostly hurt Canadian workers.

A federal law called the Buy America Act requires that steel for projects funded by the Federal Highway Administration must be made in the United States. It’s rare for such a project to be outside the United States, but the Alaska Marine Highway System was able to get the administration to pay for 91 percent of the Prince Rupert dock.

That terminal just south of Alaska is seen as a big convenience for Alaska travelers and shippers, and is popular with the visitor industry there as well...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on preliminary work for mega-projects that may never be built, but some legislators seemed reluctant to abandon projects that they've supported for years without fully funding.

In the first public hearing since Gov. Bill Walker ordered discretionary work on six mega-projects stopped, legislators attending a joint session of the House and Senate transportation committees questioned just how big the savings would be from stopping work.

Rep. Ben Nageak, D-Barrow, said Alaska needs more infrastructure.

“Let’s start building these things,” he said.

Projects such as a road to the Ambler mining district will help diversify the state’s economy and revenue sources, he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- In a solemn address Thursday evening, Gov. Bill Walker described how he would cut state operating budgets an average of 5 percent from last year, offering legislators and the public their first view of how he plans to chip away at a $3.5 billion deficit.

With the state’s revenues less than half of planned spending for this fiscal year, Walker said his proposed budget cuts for next year include education, with a 2.5 percent cut for K-12 schools -- though he added that his proposal will leave the state’s baseline education funding formula intact...

Nathaniel Herz,Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov. Bill Walker on Wednesday used his first State of the State address to put a positive, up-by-your-bootstraps spin on Alaska’s tough fiscal predicament, though he offered Alaskans few concrete details on the steps he’ll take to reach the goals outlined in his speech.

In a 40-minute address to members of the Legislature and to a statewide television and radio audience, Walker said he’d appoint a special investigator on Thursday to examine the Alaska National Guard scandal, and said he’d already taken steps to give tens of thousands of Alaskans health care coverage by expanding the Medicaid insurance program...

Nathaniel Herz,Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- With an optimism that belied the state’s yawning budget deficit, the 29th Alaska Legislature gaveled into session Tuesday afternoon.

First on the agenda in both the House and Senate was the oath of office. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott presided over the swearing-in of all 40 members of the House and 18 of the 20 members of the Senate for what he said was going to be significant and “likely to be history-making” sessions over the next two years. Two senators were ill and will complete the formalities later...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Supporters of the Juneau Access Project, the 50-mile road that would travel up Lynn Canal to a new ferry terminal that the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities wants to build, are hoping that they can persuade new Gov. Bill Walker not to kill the project.

Walker has already said he's issued an order stopping new spending on the proposed $574 million road. That's one of six megaprojects around the state he says Alaska may no longer be able to afford due to falling oil prices...

Pat Forgey

FAIRBANKS -- In 2003, the last time the state eliminated community revenue sharing , the City of Nenana had to shut down its police department, according to Mayor Jason Mayrand.

The state reinstituted the program five years later, and while Nenana has never been able to resurrect its police department, the annual infusion of revenue-sharing cash -- estimated at $115,000 this year -- is essential to keeping what remains of the local government in business, Mayrand said...

Dermot Cole,Pat Forgey