Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Top House Republican and Democratic leaders have begun negotiations on passage of the state budget, acknowledging for the first time that they'll have to reach agreement on pulling money locked in the Constitutional Budget Reserve to balance this year's budget.

Budget deficits this year are expected to wipe out the state's easily available savings account, the $2 billion Statutory Budget Reserve. That will force lawmakers to dip into the Constitutional Budget Reserve. But unlike the statutory reserve, tapping the constitutional account requires a supermajority -- 30 of the 40 House members.

That means Republican House Speaker Mike Chenault will need votes from the 13-member Independent Democratic caucus to balance this year's budget from savings...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaskans from every region of the state support expansion of Medicaid, said pollster Ivan Moore, putting new pressure on legislators who oppose expansion and say they are reflecting their constituents' views.

"Even in the most conservative, Republican areas of the state, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su, it's still 2-1 in favor," Moore said.

Moore's poll, part of his company's quarterly Alaska survey, showed 65 percent of Alaskans in favor of expansion, with 22 percent opposed. That's close to a poll conducted for the Republican-led House majority caucus a few weeks ago that showed 60 percent in favor...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- An attempt by Republican House members to target the jobs of specific Walker administration employees, including a former Democratic state senator, has been abandoned by the full Legislature, despite its strong Republican majority.

A House committee specified some employees by their specific Position Control Numbers -- including singling out a deputy commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, former Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks -- and tried to cut their jobs...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A conference committee hashing out differences between House and Senate budgets has cut some money for education and urged pay cuts for public employees, but legislators say they're planning to provide money for the Legislature's spiffy new Anchorage offices and to fight the federal government.

Meanwhile, the legislators say they have yet to decide the biggest budget differences, such as the large gaps in K-12 education funding and public broadcasting proposals.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, a member of the committee, urged it to protect school funding. A Legislative Research report indicates it will take more money to not fall behind, he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Here’s the tactic that Republican legislative leaders hope will block Medicaid expansion in Alaska: They intend to require majority support inside their caucuses for extending Medicaid before they’ll allow a floor vote. That move would effectively turn the entire Legislature into their partisan organizations and prevent their own members from joining Democrats to pass expansion.

“We don’t want to put anything on the floor that the majority caucus doesn’t support,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, who as president leads the 15-member majority caucus in the Senate made up of 14 Republicans and Democrat Lyman Hoffman of Bethel.

In the House of Representatives, Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said a similar policy is in effect...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Legislators looking to kill Alaska's film subsidy program have driven away the big-budget Hollywood movie "Hunter Killer" and may have brought a halt to a burgeoning state industry, critics said.

The Alaska Senate voted 14-6 Monday to end a tax credit program that has paid out tens of millions of dollars aimed at attracting the film and television industries, and their associated economic activity, to the state.

"Hunter-Killer," which recently announced Willem Dafoe as one of its leads, was to have been the biggest production ever filmed in Alaska, following on the heels of Drew Barrymore's "Big Miracle" and the serial killer movie "Frozen Ground" with Nicolas Cage and Vanessa Hudgens...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Hoping to avoid reopening a settled legal challenge to Alaska’s school funding scheme, the Senate Finance Committee has added back $43 million into its stripped-down capital budget for a rural school.

Kivalina, in the Northwest Arctic Borough, has long been in line for a better school, but this year’s big budget deficit had thrown those plans in doubt. The Senate’s first version of the capital budget stripped out money for the school sought by Gov. Bill Walker.

The full Senate heard the amended capital budget bill Friday, with the Kivalina school added back, and has scheduled debate on amendments and a vote for Saturday...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- In tough financial times, Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, has a tough argument to make.

He wants Alaska to create a new tax credit for fertilizer production, and use millions from the state to help convince Agrium to reopen its mothballed plant in his hometown.

A few million dollars in state tax credits for urea and ammonia production will spur hundreds of millions in new development, said Chenault, who also serves as House speaker.

Side benefits to the state range from a more stable supply of natural gas for Southcentral consumers and cheaper fertilizer for farmers to revenue for government and all-important new jobs, he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday made public its capital budget proposal for next year and it is barely a shadow of recent years.

The proposed total of $1.46 billion is made up mostly of federal money for things like roads and has trimmed state spending of what is known as "unrestricted general fund" money to $108 million, down from the $150 million proposed by Gov. Bill Walker.

If that proposal stands, it will mean Alaska's unrestricted general fund capital budget will be down by nearly 95 percent from the peak capital spending year of 2012. Unrestricted general fund spending that year ballooned to more than $2 billion, out of a $3.66 billion total capital budget during the heady days of high oil prices and budget surpluses...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska legislators are moving to shift some costs for the state’s spill prevention and response program from the oil industry to Alaskans, drawing opposition from both left and right.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to add a “surcharge” of a penny a gallon to the cost of most refined fuels sold in Alaska, though aviation, government and some others are exempted.

But what’s called a surcharge in House Bill 158 looks a lot like a tax to many legislators.

“Any way you cut it, it’s a new tax,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. Many legislators from communities where heating oil is heavily used opposed the bill...

Pat Forgey