Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Legislators looking for ways to keep up spending despite declining revenues are considering dipping into the already underfunded Teachers' Retirement System Trust Fund. Lawmakers are promising that retirement benefits will continue to be paid after the trust fund is gone, but it will be up to future legislators to keep paying those bills.

The Parnell administration Tuesday called the House Finance Committee plan "radical," and a likely threat to the state's credit rating and borrowing ability...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A new United Nations report says global warming is coming , but don't expect that to be the solution for getting huge reserves of Alaska natural gas, stranded on the frozen North Slope, to hungry Asian markets.

To those of us with maps, the prospect of shipping gas by tanker directly from Prudhoe Bay looks like a speedy solution, avoiding the billions it will cost to build a pipeline across Alaska to a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Cook Inlet at Nikiski.

"Not so fast," says almost everyone who studies the issue...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Senate Finance Committee Friday adopted an education funding plan that's $100 million more than Gov. Sean Parnell's budget proposal, and $75 million more than the scheme adopted by Alaska’s House of Representatives earlier, setting out what may be the upper and lower range of what schools can expect for next year.

Senate Finance Committee Co-chair Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, called the increase "a very large amount," but it appears to be about what schools said would hold them steady following years of cuts.

The higher funding won early praise from Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, who credited the pressure brought by parents, students and teachers for the increase.

"I'm so happy to see the effect of citizen activism," she said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Members of the Alaska Legislative Council last week wanted an extra week to study Rep. Mike Hawker's proposal for the state to purchase the Anchorage Legislative Information Office it is now leasing at a cost of $80.5 million over 20 years.

But that week stretched into 10 days, and when the time came for the critical meeting Thursday, it was abruptly canceled.

What legislators are being asked to do by Hawker, an Anchorage Republican who chairs the joint House and Senate council that manages the daily operations of the Legislature, is spend $28 million to buy the Anchorage LIO. That's the Fourth Avenue building in which Anchorage-area legislators have offices, and which is used for public meetings when the Legislature is not in session in Juneau...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaskans love big projects, but some in Juneau are coming to grips with the realization that the state's wants may exceed -- even far exceed -- its diminishing resources.

The state's billions of dollars in budget surpluses have resulted in $17 billion in available savings, but now that those surpluses have turned into deficits, they are expected to rapidly eat into those savings in coming years.

How long the extra billions last may depend on legislators' desires to feed capital project money into their home districts and a series of mega-projects that are also under consideration, including roads, dams, bridges and gas pipelines. At the same time, big pension debt is hanging over the state, further limiting legislators' options...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Is Alaska unnecessarily looking at sharing its gas line profits with TransCanada? Or is the big Canadian pipeline company coming to the rescue of a suddenly cash-strapped state at a nominal cost?

The issue of a role for TransCanada in the development of a $45-65 billion North Slope natural gas pipeline has been perplexing to many, as the company went from the state's choice to lead an overland pipeline project to feed Alaska's gas to the North American market to simply a participant in a producer-dominated liquefied natural gas export line to Nikiski...

Pat Forgey

Alaska's cities, boroughs and school districts could wind up footing more of the bill for the state's underfunded retirement plans under options now being considered by the legislature.

Gov. Sean Parnell and legislators are looking intently at plans for dealing with the $12 billion in looming retirement costs, but local leaders are getting worried about the impact of additional expense being shifted to them.

"It doesn't shift cost to the municipal governments, it shifts costs to the taxpayer," said Kathie Wasserman, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League.

Much of the $12 billion in unfunded liability was incurred by pension and retiree health care obligations incurred by cities, boroughs and school districts...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A Californian withdrew his name from an Alaska board on which membership is reserved for Alaskans, but a Texan is still seeking confirmation to another Alaska board.

Both of the unusual out-of-state appointments came from Gov. Sean Parnell, and both appointments involve the high-profile oil and gas industry. Seeking confirmation now to a seat on the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. is Richard Rabinow of Houston, Texas.

That appointment is prompting criticism by Democrats, including those who have opposed Parnell on numerous oil and gas taxation issues, but some Republican allies of the governor are questioning the appointment as well...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sean Parnell proposed his new plan to build the Knik Arm Bridge with fully public financing last December, but it has taken more than halfway through the legislative session for the new cost plan to be taken up by lawmakers.

That plan appears to significantly reduce the risk to the state, but skeptics remain.

The nearly billion-dollar bridge project is being developed by the independent Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, and until recently its status outside the regular highway construction process and the public-private partnership that was going to build it had been among its primary selling points...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A divided Alaska Senate has approved Gov. Sean Parnell's liquefied natural gas export project deal after senators said it would either provide for the state's future or give that future away to oil companies and other outsiders.

Supporters called the vote "historic" and "momentous," and said it moved Alaska closer to its decades-long quest to bring its huge reserves of natural gas to market.

Senate Bill 138, which would begin implementing Parnell's gas pipeline plan, passed 15-5, largely along party lines, and now goes to the House of Representatives.

Parnell Tuesday evening issued a statement praising the action...

Pat Forgey