Pat Forgey

FAIRBANKS -- In 2003, the last time the state eliminated community revenue sharing , the City of Nenana had to shut down its police department, according to Mayor Jason Mayrand.

The state reinstituted the program five years later, and while Nenana has never been able to resurrect its police department, the annual infusion of revenue-sharing cash -- estimated at $115,000 this year -- is essential to keeping what remains of the local government in business, Mayrand said...

Dermot Cole,Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov . Bill Walker says Alaska will tap its savings and cut budgets to get through low oil prices, but in an interview on the eve of next legislative session he was unwilling to call the state’s multibillion-dollar deficits a “crisis.”

“I don’t use the word ‘crisis’ having been through some crisis in Alaska,” Walker said. “This is a downturn, this is a serious time to sit down and make some changes within our fiscal structure.”

Walker spoke with Alaska Dispatch News on Monday, making his first substantive comments on the state’s budget in advance of this week’s dual legislative addresses, first the State of the State on Wednesday and the State of the Budget on Thursday. The 29th Legislature convenes Tuesday...

Pat Forgey,Nathaniel Herz

JUNEAU -- Critics of two state transportation megaprojects are questioning Transportation Commissioner Pat Kemp's defense of the Knik Arm bridge and the Juneau Access Project.

Gov. Bill Walker proposed limiting work on a half-dozen projects as the state faces unprecedented declines in crucial oil revenues, but Kemp warned that stopping or delaying the two transportation projects could be costly in itself...

Pat Forgey

The Alaska Aerospace Corp. agreed to return $22 million of an unspent grant to the state, the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. said it would cut spending by $90 million over the next 16 months, and the state transportation department said canceling two major highway projects in Anchorage and Juneau could mean federal penalties.

Those are among the key issues in status reports released Friday following the Dec. 24 order by Gov. Bill Walker to temporarily halt “discretionary expenditures” on five major projects. A report on the Susitna hydroelectric project is expected next week.

The governor's office said Walker is reviewing the projects to decide what steps to take next in light of the state's multibillion-dollar deficit...

Dermot Cole,Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska has the nation's most volatile tax system, capable of swinging wildly from big revenue surpluses to billion-dollar deficits, according to a study comparing state tax systems released Thursday.

Alaska's largest source of revenue, taxes and royalties on oil, can go up and down dramatically in a single year, and those revenues dwarf the state's other sources of income, such as alcohol, fisheries and corporate taxes.

Alaska has no statewide income or sales taxes, and those taxes bring stability to other states' revenue streams, according to the study released by Pew Charitable Trusts as part of its ongoing look at states' fiscal health...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov. Bill Walker met Tuesday with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in Washington, D.C., trying to head off a trade battle so a new Alaska ferry dock can be built in Canada.

But others have different goals and are intent on challenging or defending the U.S. Buy America Act that requires U.S. steel be used in the construction of Federal Highway Administration-funded projects, like the dock Alaska wants to rebuild in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Tuesday's meeting "went well," said Patricia Eckert, associate director of Alaska's Office of International Trade, but she and other state officials were not willing to say a solution to the standoff was near, or even possible...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- No Alaskan has ever taken the path taken by Byron Mallott -- either in life or in securing and then giving up his party's nomination for governor only to step back and become Alaska's lieutenant governor.

Now, Mallott and Gov. Bill Walker are promising that he's also going to be a lieutenant governor like none Alaska has ever seen before.

That was first obvious during Mallott's inauguration, when he doffed his coat and tie and highlighted his Tlingit heritage by being sworn in wearing clan regalia from his home village of Yakutat.

But Walker says what's equally important will be the unusual "partnership" between the state's top two executive officers and the prominent role the lieutenant governor will play in his administration...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- In a rare bit of good financial news for Gov. Bill Walker and state budget writers, the soaring health care costs of years past appear to have leveled off. Next year, they're even projected to go down.

That's a far cry from recent years, when health care costs seemed to climb inexorably.

But a per-person cost this year of $1,371 per employee per month is projected to drop to $1,346 next year, said Chief Health Official Michele Michaud, with the state's Division of Retirement and Benefits.

While that's less than a 2 percent decrease, there was a slight decline in health costs for fiscal year 2015 (the current year), meaning the multi-year trend is giving state officials hope the trend line in cost growth may have turned...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Top Canadian environmental officials have rejected calls from Southeast Alaska for a new, more thorough environmental review of a mine that may threaten jointly targeted salmon stocks.

The massive Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine being developed by Seabridge Gold already won approval from the province of British Columbia, but Alaskans, with fishing, Native and environmental groups leading the way, called for a more stringent "panel review" at the Canadian federal level.

But Friday, Canada's environment minister and other officials announced they'd concluded that no further review was necessary...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A new $10 million-plus Alaska Marine Highway System ferry dock planned in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, is the subject of dueling protectionist policies in the U.S. and Canada.

Because it will be funded in part through the Federal Highway Administration, the project is subject to restrictions -- known as "Buy America" provisions -- requiring such projects to use American steel.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has blasted that provision as "unacceptable" when it is enforced on Canadian soil...

Pat Forgey

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