Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Low oil prices have Alaska's leaders in a state of anxiety, but the investment managers of the Alaska Permanent Fund are responding in their own way, and looking for investments that will allow the fund to take advantage of the global dip in crude costs.

While some are anticipating a rebound in collapsing oil and gas prices, others appear to be anticipating a long period of low oil prices.

Among those who think low oil prices are here to stay are some of the fund's top managers, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. Board of Trustees heard while meeting in Juneau last week.

But those managers also said while Alaska was hurting due to low oil prices, and royalties flowing into the fund have slowed dramatically, that might open up opportunities elsewhere...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Sitting in a storage yard in Seattle are $8.2 million worth of steel bridge pilings purchased by the state of Alaska three governors ago. By just sitting there, they continue to cost the state money.

The pilings, ranging from 24 to 48 inches in diameter, were originally intended for some of the eight bridges along a new road out of Juneau. They’ve been sitting in leased storage space as state finances have risen and fallen, but now, with budget deficits in the billions, their $4,000-a-month storage cost is raising concerns...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska ferry system, which just persuaded Gov. Bill Walker to restore a 6 percent budget cut he proposed, has now been hit with a proposed 10 percent cut by a legislative subcommittee.

The cuts would have dramatic impact, ferry supporters said, as the Alaska Marine Highway System has many fixed costs and cutting service is one of the only ways to save money.

But Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, said the ferry and other reductions in the transportation budget "reflect the need to bring the state of Alaska's budget more in line with its fiscal situation."

Thompson is co-chair of the powerful House Finance Committee and also serves as chair of the subcommittee that made the ferry cuts Thursday morning...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Big cuts to education programs led budget subcommittee work in the Legislature this week, with Republican legislators saying Gov. Bill Walker has not proposed deep enough cuts to the budget.

A subcommittee reviewing the Department of Education and Early Development budget Tuesday evening cut 19 percent from the unrestricted general funds budget, but did not touch the Base Student Allocation, the per-student amount that provides most education funding in Alaska...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Kenai River fish wars have claimed another Fish Board nominee, this time Roland Maw, named to the board by Gov. Bill Walker. Maw withdrew his name from consideration Friday after facing opposition.

He is former executive director of a commercial fishing group, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, and a retired drift gillnet fisherman.

In 2013, an Alaska Board of Fisheries member, Vince Webster, was rejected for reappointment by the Legislature after sportfishing groups complained. He was a commercial setnet fisherman...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- President Barack Obama will visit Alaska in August, Sen. Lisa Murkowski told Alaska legislators Wednesday in a joint legislative session.

And this trip, she said, appears to be a real visit, not simply a gas stop at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to fill up Air Force One as it travels between Washington and Asia.

Murkowski, during her annual address to the Legislature, said she had been told about the trip by Secretary of State John Kerry while discussing Arctic issues with him. She said that the White House considers Alaska to be among the states the president has visited, but that he’s never actually left JBER.

“He’s never been off base,” she said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- When Alaska first looked to drive construction of a natural gas pipeline rather than wait for others to do it, the state had billions in readily available savings and more surpluses flowing into its treasury.

Now, facing deficits of $3 billion a year or more, the state's investment banker is warning that Alaska may be out of money by the time construction begins and it needs to come up with billions of dollars for its share of the project.

It will be the job of Lazard Freres & Co. to advise the state on how to finance its share, possibly a quarter of the $45 billion to $65 billion project. Lawmakers on Tuesday reviewed for the first time Lazard's preliminary report on financing options...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Cook Inlet commercial fishermen would like to see one of their own on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, but sport fishermen and their legislative allies are skeptical.

The Alaska Legislature will have to confirm Roland Maw as Gov. Bill Walker's newest appointee to the Fish Board. It began its confirmation hearing Monday before the Senate Resources Committee, and heard conflicting portrayals of the fisheries scientist.

Maw had earlier sought appointment as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, but acting commissioner Sam Cotten was chosen by the fish and game boards instead...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov. Bill Walker’s administration is pulling back from initial proposals to more aggressively invest Alaska’s billions of dollars in savings. Instead, as deficits eat into those accounts, it is now looking at investing even more cautiously in the future than previous administrations.

That shift could result in less revenue for the state treasury, but also protect the state from big losses if markets now at all-time highs take a sudden tumble again.

Walker opened up the issue of Alaska using its unique savings accounts to make more money during an address to a joint session of the Alaska Legislature about the state of the budget.

“I have asked the revenue commissioner to explore ways to safely put the state’s wealth to work,” Walker said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- While Gov. Bill Walker is attempting to rein in the state's budget, the two other branches of government say they're doing the same thing.

While the judicial and legislative branches of government are dwarfed by the executive branch that Walker manages, leaders of the others say they're planning cuts as well.

Chief Justice Dana Fabe told legislators that once the court system realized the extent of the state's projected budget deficit for next year, new cuts were found to the "bare bones" budget that she'd already prepared.

And a top legislator said they'll try to cut the Legislature by as much as Walker has cut his own office's budget...

Pat Forgey