Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Marine Highway System is proposing tying up ferries and slashing service next summer, in anticipation of further cuts in next year's budget. "This is disconcerting, to say the least, for those of us who rely on the Marine Highway System," said Robert Venables of Haines, chair of the Marine Transportation Advisory Board. In a Tuesday letter to businesses and communities served by ferries, AMHS general manager John Falvey said the cuts are "based on an assumed funding level," but he maintained that essential, core services to ferry-dependent communities would continue. The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is proposing the ferry system keep three of 11 ferries at the dock all summer, including its two newest and one of its more than 50-year-old original...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Alaska's investment earnings last year plunged by nearly 70 percent from the previous year's record earnings of $8 billion. The bulk of this year's investment earnings of about $2.6 billion came from the Permanent Fund for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The investment earnings are the profits the state makes from its more than $60 billion in savings, not counting savings obligated for responsibilities, such as the state's retirement trust funds. The decrease in investment earnings comes as state leaders are increasingly looking to use the Permanent Fund to solve the problem of how to pay for state government at a time when declining oil prices have dramatically reduced revenues. "There's absolutely no way to avoid the Permanent Fund being part of the solution," said Randy...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Angry Juneau seniors are accusing the city government of targeting them with an unfair tax increase, and some are threatening retaliation. The threats range from withholding their volunteer labor and donations to nonprofits to retribution at the ballot box -- and even leaving town for places where they say seniors are considered assets to the community. "The amount of hours we put in and give to this city are phenomenal, and you want to balance your budget on our backs," said retired federal employee Nora Laughlin. She was speaking to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, and what's got Laughlin and other older residents so worked up is the loss of their blanket exemption to the city's 5 percent retail sales tax. Currently, residents aged 65 and older can get a card from the...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Blasting North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower's "egregious" conduct and a "glaring lack of cooperation" with its investigation, Alaska's top elections regulator slapped her with a $34,460 fine, along with an assessment for costs it said were driven up by that lack of assistance. The Alaska Public Offices Commission hit Brower with the unusually large civil penalty after a months-long investigation into her campaign for re-election to the mayor's post last year. The fine appears to be the largest ever against a candidate in Alaska, and one of the largest campaign violation penalties ever sought by APOC. Brower never filed her 2014 end-of-the-year disclosure report, due in January, or ever provided complete information APOC investigators requested. From what information...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- A legislative budget scheme that may have been used to make budget numbers look better in the past threatens this year to drive up the state budget by $45 million. Now, the Alaska Retirement Management Board says it will resist legislative direction to take an action that some members said was "not actuarially sound" and come up with its own budget numbers. Board member Sheldon Fisher, Gov. Bill Walker's commissioner of the Department of Administration, called the board's action "prudent" and questioned whether legislators really knew what they were doing when they attempted to change how retirement contributions are calculated. "It's not something the Legislature considered in a very deep or substantial way," Fisher said during a board meeting Thursday in Fairbanks. Board...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- In Wrangell, the state has stepped in to clean up a badly contaminated junkyard after federal assistance fell through. The Southeast island town of 2,400 couldn't afford the cleanup and had originally looked to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for help. "We'd been working with them over 3 to 4 years and they did an assessment that found very high levels of lead and some other things," said Carol Rushmore, Wrangell's planning and zoning administrator. The former Byford Salvage junkyard for decades accepted cars, drums and various other items, including batteries and tires, before going out of business in the 1990s. A new owner shipped out cars and metal and tried to clean up the site but failed, and has since vanished. But just as Wrangell was counting on a federal grant...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- The big oil companies that plan to produce and ship North Slope natural gas have agreed to pay $16.5 billion in property taxes on the huge project, but they'll pay them to the state instead of local governments, Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck said Wednesday. That payment, structured as payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT, will include $800 million in "impact" payments, mostly for communities along the pipeline route. The payments will be applied to costs before the $55 billion project begins producing liquefied natural gas for export from Cook Inlet. Reaching agreement on the property tax issue will make it easier to get a deal on a project and prevent future conflicts, Hoffbeck said. "In order to do the fiscal modeling for this project we needed to lock down some of these...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Juneau's promoters say the Capitol will be ready to hold a special session of the Alaska Legislature this fall and is very nearly ready today after a summer full of work winds down. Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, said that because special sessions require 30 days' notice, the multi-year renovation and seismic retrofit will be mostly done by the time the not-yet-called session begins. "Most of the work is wrapping up and we're getting very close to being done for the season," she said. There may be some inconveniences, such as a few legislative offices and small conference rooms being unavailable, but nothing that can't be worked around, she said. Gov. Bill Walker has said he intends to call a special session of the Legislature to discuss unspecified natural gas pipeline issues but...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- The North Slope Borough has become fabulously wealthy from taxes on the oil industry and its massive Prudhoe Bay infrastructure. In addition to subsidies of thousands of dollars per resident for the costs of water, sewer, lights and heat, the nation's northernmost municipality even has its own permanent fund. At about half a billion dollars, the borough's permanent fund is equal to the size of the Alaska Permanent Fund on a relative, per-person basis. But while a decline in the price of oil is hitting the state's budget hard and threatening to drive Alaska into a recession, the North Slope Borough is still sitting pretty. That's because the borough gets its revenue from property taxes on $18 billion worth of industry infrastructure there, not on taxes on income or profits or...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- The University of Alaska's new president, former telecommunications executive Jim Johnsen , will earn $325,000 per year on his five-year contract to lead the state's higher education system But he can also boost his salary by as much as $75,000 each year by meeting a series of goals the Board of Regents adopted as an extra incentive Friday while meeting in Juneau. "We structured these metrics so that he has to earn them, it's not a given," said Jo Heckman, the board's chair. "If he cannot produce what we're looking for, he doesn't get any of that," she said. Bonuses for performance have long been part of the business world and are being used increasingly in the public sector, Heckman said. That makes this a good time to adopt the bonus system, as Johnsen is coming directly from...Pat Forgey