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Pat Forgey

State regulators have approved two insurers to begin offering health coverage on Alaska's insurance exchange, a key provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) that aims to inject competition and consumer choice into healthcare. The exchanges are expected to begin selling insurance this fall, just ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline for most of "Obamacare" to take effect.

Alaska turned down federal money to conceive of and prepare to build an exchange. Gov. Sean Parnell at the time balked at accepting money to build a health insurance website for Alaska. Ultimately, he declined to build one at all, leaving residents to await a federal template, built for states including Alaska that only grudgingly accepted Obamacare as law of the land...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Troubled Polar Petroleum Corp., already facing Securities and Exchange Commission regulatory scrutiny, revealed this week that it has lost its primary financing source as well.

Polar owns North Slope oil leases near some of the state's major producers, and had appeared to want to parlay that association into stock sales that would enable it to explore for and develop its own wells.

The company is what's known as a "exploration stage" company, in this case meaning that it has no current revenues as it develops its leases. It has been issuing stock to finance its activities, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on operations without any revenue coming in...

Pat Forgey

Bright blue skies over Southeast Alaska have made this a summer to remember for the region's tourist industry.

Visitors may wonder just how the Tongass National Forest happens to become the world's largest temperate rain forest, what with the lack of rain and all.

"People are coming here on a sunny day and are, like, 'Why wouldn't everyone live here? This is amazing,’" said Betsy Dorn, tour manager at Wings of Alaska , which flies sightseeing tours on de Havilland Otter seaplanes over Juneau glaciers and to its historic Taku River Lodge...

Pat Forgey

Forget what you know about the No Child Left Behind law, and its confusing Adequate Yearly Progress standard for measuring schools.

Alaska’s new standard is the Alaska School Performance Index, and educators across the state are poring over the new rankings and other data, trying to determine what tales they tell for their school.

The new school rankings , released publicly Friday, will enable schools to be compared to each other this year. They'll become more useful in future years when they can measure each school’s progress. They’re expected to be further modified to focus on Alaska's new education standards, which are in the works...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- OK, this is awkward. It now looks as if former Gov. Sarah Palin was right all along about the "Bridge to Nowhere," when in 2007 she canceled the proposed $400 million project to link Ketchikan with its airport on nearby Gravina Island, saying it was too expensive.

Both the City of Ketchikan and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough now say that the best way to improve access to the airport is by improved ferry service. The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is now studying both ferry and bridge options as part of the Gravina Access Project. Public comment on the draft environmental impact statement ends Tuesday...

Pat Forgey

The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and its CEO Dan Fauske have been Alaska's go-to solution for fiscal problems. The independently run state housing agency years ago took on the task of converting the state's multimillion-dollar tobacco settlement payments into immediate cash by using its Wall Street expertise to issue bonds backed by the regular industry payments. That was done at the behest of the Alaska Legislature and governor, and it helped bail the state out of a budget crunch...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska has been underfunding its retirement plans for years, but some lonely voices are trying to see that the 49th state doesn't end up like Detroit, another government that for years failed to adequately fund its retirement plans and is now paying the price.

Like Detroit, Alaska has sometimes made choices that were politically easier but which left much bigger problems looming.

"It's the old story of kicking the can down the road, and the result is costing billions and billions more of contributions over time," said Martin Pihl, a retired pulp mill manager from Ketchikan who serves as a member of the Alaska Retirement Management Board , overseeing the retirement trust funds...

Pat Forgey

ConocoPhillips is reporting growing profits in Alaska, even amid a worldwide decline, telling Wall Street it was continuing to shrink the company to focus on its most-profitable assets.

For the quarter ending June 30, Conoco made $585 million from continuing operations in Alaska, as well as an additional $97 million from a pipeline tariff overcharge settlement. Conoco's adjusted profit of $585 million for the three months was more than the $543 million they made in the first quarter or the $551 million they made during the second quarter last year.

Conoco's worldwide profit was $2.1 billion, down 10 percent from last year, largely due to sales of less-profitable refining and other operations. Such sales are expected to continue...

Pat Forgey

The return of the ferry Tustumena, already repeatedly delayed, will now be delayed indefinitely, the Alaska Marine Highway System announced Friday. The Tustumena had been expected to return from extended overhaul in August, but the shipyard attempting the repairs has been struggling complete welds that will pass inspection.

"We are extremely dismayed that the Tustumena is not ready to return to service," said Pat Kemp, commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, which oversees the ferry system.

The decision will leave the Southwest Alaska communities on Kodiak Island, the Kenai Peninsula and along the Aleutian Islands chain without ferry service for additional months...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- In Alaska, we don't care how they do things elsewhere.

But there's also a growing bipartisan consensus that the state can't keep building prisons to house all the people it would like to lock up, and that's got legislators looking to see what they're doing elsewhere.

And one place where new ideas acceptable to Alaskans might be found is tough-on-crime Texas, which has grappled with the same issue.

This week, former Republican Texas legislator Jerry Madden told Alaskans that Texas has struggled with the growing cost of incarceration, combined with ineffectiveness of traditional methods used to keep criminals from going back to a life of crime after they got out of prison...

Pat Forgey

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