Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Legislators last year said they were bolstering state retirement systems when they authorized pumping $3 billion from savings into the trust funds that provide retirement checks and health care for tens of thousands of Alaska state and local government retirees.

But members of the Alaska Retirement Management Board, meeting in Juneau this week, said other changes legislators made at the same time will wind up costing Alaskans billions more than that over the years.

The goal, it appears, was to reduce costs in the next few years while moving costs down the road, they said.

Trustee Kris Erchinger called one of the major changes "essentially refinancing your 15-year mortgage out to a 25-year mortgage."...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- State Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said Wednesday that he’s now cancer-free following treatment for a recurrence of the prostate cancer with which he was first diagnosed in 2013.

Ellis is in his third decade as an Anchorage legislator after first being elected to the House of Representatives in 1986. He represents downtown Anchorage.

Following his diagnosis with prostate cancer, Ellis took to the Senate floor last year to urge others to get checkups and to praise long-time Alaska U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens for bringing light to the need for cancer screenings, which helped persuade him to get tested...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Walker administration told legislators Tuesday it plans to continue working on the new 50-mile road out of Juneau despite putting the $574 million effort on a earlier list of megaprojects it was halting.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken said that by completing the ongoing studies of the Juneau Access Improvement Project, it would take the proposed highway to its “logical next step” but make no commitment to going any further.

“It will give some time to do a really thorough analysis one more time before we come up with a final decision,” Luiken said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- An emergency end to film subsidies in Alaska that could cancel tax credits for the planned filming of the movie "Hunter Killer" in Whittier is like a "tourniquet" to stop bleeding in the state budget, said Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak.

But the state needs to do even more, he said, and should completely end the use of tax credits to support the film industry. A bill he's introduced, SB 39, would do that.

"We should take it off the books if it's clearly something we can't afford," he said.

Stoltze said he believes Gov. Bill Walker's recently expressed concerns about the film incentive program are due to the budget situation, as are his own concerns...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- After pledging last month to cut more than 6 percent from state agency spending, Gov. Bill Walker on Thursday revealed just how he’d do that, releasing a proposal that trims $240 million in part by cutting 250 of the state’s 22,000 full-time employees.

In a speech in late January, Walker gave a preview of his budget proposal, warning legislators and citizens that a drop in state oil revenues would force a discussion about “deep cuts” that would “hurt.” But he didn’t say exactly who would be affected, instead offering an outline that showed the reductions from each state department.

On Thursday, he released a detailed plan showing for the first time which specific programs and people will suffer the pain as he attempts to close a $3.5 billion deficit...

Nathaniel Herz,Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- As state employees and others await the release of Gov. Bill Walker’s budget Thursday, he’s warning the employees the proposal will call for reductions in both state services and the public employees providing those services.

Walker said Wednesday his budget proposal for fiscal year 2016, beginning July 1, “includes staff reductions and will initiate a challenging, but necessary, discussion among Alaskans.”...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Challenging the state House of Representatives leadership that last year supported Gov. Sean Parnell's Senate Bill 21 oil tax cut, Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, tried to use the popular issue of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to shed light on just how little Alaska now receives from its oil-tax system.

The House leadership would have none of that.

Gara tried to amend House Joint Resolution 9, endorsing leasing of the refuge’s coastal plain for oil and gas development. Such resolutions have been been passed time and time again in both houses of the Legislature over the years, to little or no effect...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The top team at Gov. Bill Walker's Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will look a lot like one of those that ran the department for former Gov. Sean Parnell.

Walker had already named Marc Luiken of Anchorage, a former Parnell transportation commissioner, to replace Pat Kemp, ousted as commissioner last month.

On Tuesday, Luiken announced that Steve Hatter and Mike Neussl were being named deputy commissioners.

Luiken, Hatter and Neussl held the same jobs in the past, with Luiken serving as commissioner, Hatter serving as his deputy for aviation and Neussl his deputy for marine operations.

“It is an honor to have them rejoin my team,” Luiken said as they were announced Tuesday...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- As budgets tighten, top leaders in the Alaska Legislature say they’re going to be cracking down on travel and keeping legislators at work.

Members of the Democratic minorities in the House and Senate say that’s what they've been doing all along.

First to feel the impact of the travel restrictions imposed by House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, is the Energy Council. That’s a popular midsession trip to a conference in Washington, D.C., that results in most legislative work in Juneau grinding to a halt. Twenty of the 60 legislators went to the Energy Council in 2013, down from 28 in 2010...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov. Bill Walker says that at current oil prices Alaska can no longer afford its film subsidy program, an attempt to diversify the state’s economy by building a film and television industry.

But interviews with those in the industry, and with officials in charge of the state tax credit program that’s intended to provide incentives to the industry, suggest that the state has already quietly stopped the program...

Pat Forgey