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Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Caelus Energy, which this year bought independent oil company Pioneer Natural Resources' Alaska operations, has been given preliminary approval for big reductions in the royalties it will pay the state when its new Nuna development on the North Slope comes into production.

The Department of Natural Resources says that dropping the royalty rate from 12.5 percent to 5 percent will make development of Nuna economical and bring new oil production to Alaska.

Division of Oil & Gas Director Bill Barron said companies have to prove they need the reduced royalties.

"It's a tool for the state to allow the company to move forward in economically or technically challenging projects that probably would not go forward, save royalty relief," he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Legislature is spending $33 million renovating its offices, but when they're done, no one may even notice.

At least, that's what architect Wayne Jensen hopes.

Those offices, otherwise known as the state Capitol, were built in 1930 by the federal government to serve the then-Territory of Alaska.

Good, solid construction for its time, Jensen said, but now badly in need of an upgrade.

"This is a very valuable building. It's got a rich history starting as the territorial building and then becoming the state Capitol in 1959," he said.

"They did a good job 80 years ago -- I'm giving them credit for getting it right the first time. This renovation we're doing should add another 80 years to the building," he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Facing difficulty in getting a road through rugged terrain to Canada's Tulsequah Chief mine, the company that wants to reopen the old gold, zinc and copper mine is now planning instead on bringing the ore out through Alaska by barge.

That's raising concerns in Alaska's capital city of Juneau, where the barges would pass through. The Canadian mine is just east of Juneau.

Chieftain Metals Corp. of Canada has provided few details so far about what that new barging plan would entail and what sort of regulatory hurdles there might be in either Alaska or British Columbia...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Senate Democrats have named Sen. Berta Gardner as their new leader, while Rep. Chris Tuck will continue for another session as leader of House Democrats. Both are from Anchorage.

The Senate Minority Caucus this year will include Sens. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, and Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, who last session were members of the Republican-led Majority Caucus.

Democratic committee assignments will include Olson on the Finance Committee, as well as the Community and Regional Affairs Committee. Egan will serve as a member of the Transportation Committee he chaired last session and will continue as a member of the Legislative Council...

Pat Forgey

Members of the state House of Representatives have selected Mike Chenault of Nikiski as their Speaker for the fourth straight session, giving a solid stamp of approval to the leadership of the former construction company owner for the last six years.

That's a record time as a presiding officer for either legislative body, surpassing the three sessions in which Sitka Democrat Ben Grussendorf served as speaker, and three sessions in which Jalmar Kerttula of Palmer served as a presiding officer, once as a speaker and twice as president of the Senate.

In a written statemente following a closed-door organizational meeting in Anchorage, Chenault called the record-setting election "humbling."...

Pat Forgey

With several House races in the Alaska Legislature still undecided, the more stable Senate took its first steps Wednesday toward organizing for the upcoming 29th Legislature, with the Republican majority naming Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, as Senate President.

Tuesday’s election increased the Senate Republican majority by one to 14, and the senators quickly responded with an organization that elevated Meyer, a 14-year legislative veteran, to replace Sen. Charlie Huggins of Wasilla. Sen. John Coghill of Fairbanks will continue as majority leader and Huggins took the leadership job of chairman of the Rules Committee.

The Republican majority in the House was solid even with three undecided races, two of them in Anchorage...

Richard Mauer,Pat Forgey

Update, Nov. 5:

A large number of absentee ballots and early votes remain to be counted in Southeast’s District 36, where independent Dan Ortiz and Republican Chere Klein have been battling it out to represent Ketchikan and Wrangell in Juneau after the retirement of Republican Peggy Wilson.

Ortiz led by 19 votes after Tuesday’s count, but the Alaska Division of Elections says 936 early votes and absentee ballots are already in hand and awaiting a count. Plus more absentees may arrive through Nov. 19, the deadline for overseas ballots...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Some Republican incumbents who were once thought to have easy runs for re-election in heavily Republican districts are now facing spirited opposition from independent candidates.

And those challengers have the same crucial advantage that independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker is using to run neck-and-neck with incumbent Republican governor Sean Parnell: There's no Democratic candidate in the race.

Independent Warren Keogh of Chickaloon hopes to unseat first-term Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, in Senate District E that runs from Mat-Su to Prince William Sound.

And in neighboring House District 7, first-term Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, is facing a challenge from Wasilla Mayor Verne Rupright, also running as an independent...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska is either a national leader or laggard on job creation, based on newly released state and national employment data.

Alaska lost 7,600 jobs between August and September , according to September's newly released preliminary Alaska jobs numbers. A comparison of September 2014 to September 2013 shows a loss of 1,200 jobs.

But the office of Gov. Sean Parnell responded to the new numbers by issuing a press release Tuesday claiming "Alaska Created More Jobs Per Capita Than Any Other State in September."...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- While the U.S. economy appears to be finally picking up some steam, Alaska employment is showing some signs of stalling or of faltering, according to new Department of Labor and Workforce Development data released Friday.

Alaska's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held at 6.8 percent in September, identical to August, but above the 6.6 percent rate in September of last year, even while the national economy improved.

The U.S. seasonally adjusted rate was 5.9 percent in September, down from 6.1 percent in August. But the most dramatic change was compared to last year, when the national rate was 7.2 percent and higher than the Alaska rate...

Pat Forgey