Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Some of Alaska's most isolated communities fear state budget cuts will leave them even worse off as state ferry cuts hit residents before summer tourists. "It's frustrating for us, because it seems like when there's no money, the rural communities get cut first," said Albert Howard, mayor of Angoon. The Alaska Marine Highway System has long tried to balance different missions, including being the state highway that local residents use for shopping, doctor visits, school trips and numerous other activities of everyday life, while at the same time being the route by which tens of thousands of valuable independent travelers come to Alaska. And some of those visitors provide an important tourism boost to small communities that aren't well positioned to benefit from the million...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Thousands of signatures of Alaskans seeking to link Permanent Fund dividend applications to voter registrations were turned in to the state Division of Elections Thursday, but it will be months before Alaskans will know when, or even if, that will result in an election. The PFD Voter Registration campaign wants to change state law to make voter registration automatic for eligible voters signing up for their dividends. The signatures turned in Thursday were 25 percent more than the number needed, the group said, meaning that even if some prove to not be from registered voters there will likely be a sufficient margin to qualify for the ballot. Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke said Thursday that her office had confirmed that an adequate number of signatures on petition...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Facing economic troubles expected to be made worse by fewer state government jobs, advocates of a road out of Juneau are saying that road construction could be an economic stimulus that can provide jobs through the downturn. "That's important to us because we're talking about our friends and neighbors and whether they're going to be employed here or whether or not they are going to have to leave our community," said Denny Dewitt, executive director of the First Things First Alaska Foundation , a Juneau group promoting resource use and economic development. Juneau has long been starkly divided on the question of a road north from Juneau up Lynn Canal. Under the latest plan, a road would run up the east side of Lynn Canal to a new ferry terminal at the Katzehin River, where...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU — Controversial issues involving same-sex marriage and Medicaid expansion highlight bills introduced in the first round of prefiled legislation introduced in the 2016 Alaska Legislature, but battles over those issues may not have the same intensity as in 2015. Bills introduced in both the House and Senate would bar the state or municipalities from penalizing those authorized to perform marriages from refusing to do so, or refusing to provide goods, services or accommodations for the "solemnization, formation or celebration of a marriage." The bill doesn't specifically mention same-sex marriages, but that issue has been lately controversial, with the Legislature declining to pass anti-discrimination legislation, but local governments doing so on their own. Rep. Andy Josephson, D-...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Alaska hunting guides are being hit with new fees as the state tries to cope with big budget deficits, but the higher fees would have come anyway, says the chairman of the Big Game Commercial Services Board. The new fees will raise $1 million to pay off an operating deficit of the board that the state has been subsidizing, hopefully within two years, said chairman Kelly Vrem, who's also a Sutton-based guide. The highest fees after the adjustment will be $1,700 for nonresident guide and transporter licenses, an increase of $400. A full list is here . According to the state, in 2013 there were 132 licensed master guides, 462 guides, 1,031 assistant guides and 158 transporters working in Alaska. "We, the industry as a whole, we are not looking for any subsidies, and we certainly...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- A natural gas pipeline has been looked to by Alaskans as their financial salvation to replace dwindling oil revenues, but it may provide more salvation for some than others. Communities along the route of the pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to a liquefied natural gas export terminal at Nikiski have spent the fall negotiating with the state and other communities about how to divide up the estimated $15.7 billion in property tax revenues the project will produce over 25 years. The state has proposed a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes structure, hoping to avoid the contentious history of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, and its associated lawsuits. The idea behind a PILT is to remove uncertainty from the Alaska LNG project, so that communities know what kind of revenue to expect, and the companies...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Wildlife regulators have imposed an emergency wolf harvest closure on Prince of Wales Island, but groups fearing the wolf population there is already at risk say no harvest should have been allowed in the first place. Prince of Wales in Southeast is the state's second-largest island, behind Kodiak Island, and its productive timberlands make it the heart of the state's logging industry. The island is in the Forest Service's Craig and Thorne Bay Ranger Districts, and it and some neighboring islands make up most of the state's Game Management Unit 2. The Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game jointly manage the wolf population there, an increasingly contentious task in recent years. Environmental groups blame logging for some of the decline in wolf numbers, along...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- The U.S. Congress has reauthorized the Export-Import Bank of the United States in an effort to boost trade by helping finance operations of American companies overseas. Among the projects the bank has assisted with billions in loans and other financing are liquefied natural gas export efforts in Australia and Papua New Guinea , ventures that target Asian LNG markets and may compete with Alaska's natural gas export plans. The Export-Import Bank had been barred from making new loans for the last five months after tea party conservatives in Congress said it violated free-market principles and blocked its reauthorization. They were joined by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who voted against reauthorizing the bank's charter then. Alaska's two other members of Congress, Sen. Lisa Murkowski...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- The U.S. Forest Service has awarded permits for thousands of guided tours at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor center, but had requests for three times as many trips as were available. Visitors to the increasingly popular Mendenhall Glacier can watch climate change in action as icebergs calve from the face of the glacier and dot Mendenhall Lake. Friday's award of 239,000 trip slots to a slew of local tour companies was the first time in a generation that businesses were able to bid for authority to take clients to one of the nation's most accessible glaciers. It's an opportunity they won't have again until 2020, when the rest of the trips become available, said John Neary, the center's director. Independent visitors can visit the glacier at will. The caps only allocate trips by bus...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Alaska Gov. Bill Walker's fiscal plan proposal puts a new focus on borrowing to maintain state spending, which state officials say could give the state more financial flexibility but would also raise costs for future generations, who would have to pay off the debt. The state has billions in future retirement obligations it's been slowly paying down, and every year has to provide at least a minimal capital budget to accept matching federal money, mostly for highway projects. Now Walker wants to deal with both those costs by borrowing, issuing $2.5 billion in pension obligation bonds to reduce annual retirement costs and additional general obligation bonds to meet state requirements to match the federal spending that brings nearly $1 billion a year to the state. That would mean...Pat Forgey