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Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- While the U.S. economy appears to be finally picking up some steam, Alaska employment is showing some signs of stalling or of faltering, according to new Department of Labor and Workforce Development data released Friday.

Alaska's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held at 6.8 percent in September, identical to August, but above the 6.6 percent rate in September of last year, even while the national economy improved.

The U.S. seasonally adjusted rate was 5.9 percent in September, down from 6.1 percent in August. But the most dramatic change was compared to last year, when the national rate was 7.2 percent and higher than the Alaska rate...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaskans are already voting in this year's hotly contested races.

Some ballots began returning even before voters had received the official election pamphlet or the extra supplemental pamphlet correcting the omission of independent candidate Bill Walker, or before Walker's election information was posted online.

Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said based on the timing of the mailings, she expects the voter pamphlet issue to have little effect on voters.

A federal law, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, gives extra time to vote absentee to those who may have difficulty getting completed ballots returned promptly. Those voters were mailed absentee ballots on Sept. 17 of this year...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Residents turned out overwhelmingly Tuesday to oppose a road out of town that the state wants to build, with many saying Alaska's new budget deficits mean it can no longer afford the more than half-billion-dollar project.

"I would like our money spent on education. That's our future," said SueAnn Randall of Juneau.

The hearing, held by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities along with the Federal Highway Administration, looked at the latest plan for what's officially called the "Juneau Access Project."...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has wanted to build a road north from Juneau for years, saying it's needed to meet the travel demand between the capital and neighboring Lynn Canal communities Haines and Skagway .

Now, it gets to find out what those three communities think of the latest plan for what it calls the Juneau Access Project as it begins public hearings on the plan.

What's locally called the "Juneau Road" has been divisive in those cities for years, but the Transportation Department will be holding hearings on its draft supplemental environmental impact study, with its new road plan and a new price tag of $574 million...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Sketchy Knik Arm Crossing traffic projections stalled the controversial project in the Legislature in 2013, and supporters rushed to promise new, more credible numbers that they said would prove the bridge viable.

More than a year later, studies that were to have taken a few months to complete are still not being released by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. But project skeptics continue to push for information to be made public.

The department has rejected public records requests for the studies from the Government Hill Community Council, which hoped to protect its neighborhood from the effects of the billion-dollar project by showing that it didn't pencil out...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Here's why you've probably gotten an extra "supplemental" voter pamphlet for the Alaska governor's race in the mail this week.

It's because of Bill Walker, the independent candidate for governor. But it's not his fault -- at least not entirely, says the state Division of Elections.

The changes in the governor's race, which involved Democratic nominee Byron Mallott stepping down to run for lieutenant governor with independent Walker joining him as candidate for governor in a "unity ticket," took many by surprise. That included the Division of Elections, which failed to put Walker in the pamphlet but did get others, who had been in the primary, into the main pamphlet...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska may have an opportunity for a potentially risky but very profitable investment when it comes to decision time on a liquefied natural gas export project.

But budget deficits are eating into Alaska's readily available savings, and there may not be much other than the Alaska Permanent Fund left when it comes time to make those multibillion-dollar investments.

So should the Permanent Fund consider investing some of its $50 billion portfolio in a pipeline project?

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski renewed that years-old discussion with columns in Alaska newspapers last spring. A letter Murkowski later sent to Permanent Fund leaders urging consideration of the idea has been discussed at recent meetings. It found both support and criticism...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sean Parnell last month traveled to Ketchikan to announce that an Alaska shipyard in that city would be building the state's new "Alaska class" ferries.

The news that Vigor Alaska would win the $100 million contract for the first two ferries was welcomed in Ketchikan, which is still struggling with the loss of its pulp mill and the decline of the once-dominant timber industry.

The new ferries will be "made in Alaska, by Alaskans. It's awesome," Parnell said.

But as news stories go, the announcement wasn't all that surprising.

Vigor Alaska, a subsidiary of Northwest-based Vigor Industrial, had months earlier been selected by the state for the sole-source, no-bid contract. All it needed to do was to agree with the state on a price...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The gubernatorial campaigns tussled over budgets and budget cuts Monday at a debate in Juneau, each trying to sound fiscally conservative, but not too fiscally conservative, in a city reliant like no other in Alaska on government spending.

Gov. Sean Parnell and the Republican Parnell-Dan Sullivan ticket was given a warm reception and vocal support at Monday's debate. But new "unity" ticket challenger Bill Walker, along with Juneau's Byron Mallott, had a smaller cheering section there as well.

Juneau Chamber of Commerce officials said Libertarian Care Clift had been expected to attend but missed her plane...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Permanent Fund won't be following the lead of California's huge CalPERS public pension fund, which just made the startling decision to stop investing in hedge funds.

But Mike Burns, executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., which manages the Permanent Fund, says he understands why CalPERS managers did what they did.

"We think about it all the time," he said.

Hedge funds were created to "hedge" risk similar to an insurance policy. Big investors would use hedge funds to balance investment risks, like making investments that would go up if the stock market was to fall...

Pat Forgey