Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska is slated to spend big bucks in the coming years on several "megaprojects" -- those expected to cost a half-billion dollars or more. They began when the state was flush with cash, but the agencies that want to build them are still pushing, despite looming state budget deficits.

With the state now looking toward a time when its ample savings start drying up, legislators serving on the House and Senate transportation committees were told that the state's top megaprojects should be funded before the money vanishes...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Exxon Mobil's chairman is praising Alaska for abandoning its attempt to get an independent gas pipeline built and instead support a plan in which the major oil company would own a share. At the same time, Alaska officials have expressed a willingness to lower taxes or provide other incentives to make such a project more profitable for Exxon and other oil companies...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov. Parnell's natural gas pipeline bill is marching though the legislative process, but those who will be asked to vote on it still appear to have little understanding of the bill's possible benefits to the state or the risks it entails.

But its supporters, like Senate President Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, said this effort will finally get Alaska the pipeline that it has long sought.

Huggins said he's watched four other pipeline efforts fail, including the selection of TransCanada to develop a pipeline under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, which he opposed.

But this latest plan, Huggins said, will succeed.

"This one I think is going to happen, and I think Alaskans believe that," he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Getting the jump on Alaska's Republican legislators who might want to tell him how to do his job in Washington, D.C., U.S. Sen. Mark Begich told lawmakers in Juneau on Monday what he thought of the job they were doing here.

When it came to education, he wasn't complimentary.

"I'm troubled by what's happened to state education funding over the past few years and the questionable direction for our public schools advocated by some in this legislative session," Alaska's junior senator told a joint session of the Alaska Legislature Monday in the state Capitol.

Of particular concern, he said, was a move to amend the state constitution to allow public money go to private or religious schools...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A soaring stock market hit an all-time high this week, as did the $50 billion Alaska Permanent Fund.

Now, some are asking whether the stock market is at risk of a fall, and warning the permanent fund, with its heavy reliance on riskier stock investments, is also at risk.

Among those sounding the alarm is Jay Willoughby, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.'s chief investment officer. The publicly owned corporation manages the fund's investments, which provide earnings from which the state pays dividends every year...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Permanent Fund is joining the rush to the Bakken, the new North Dakota shale oil play that has had Alaska leaders fearful and envious.

Anger at being surpassed by North Dakota in oil production was used by those challenging Alaska's former ACES oil tax law in recent years, and it helped win passage of Senate Bill 21, an oil-tax rollback championed by the state's oil industry and Gov. Sean Parnell.

Now the state itself is investing in the Bakken and other oil and gas deals, the fund's board of trustees was told Wednesday while meeting in Juneau...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A joint effort between Alaska legislators and members of the public to find common ground on sustainable school funding is now being called biased and incompetently managed by one of its members.

The effort began with high hopes, as House Speaker Mike Chenault appointed the House Sustainable Education Task Force to begin looking at education funding solutions between legislative sessions. The task force was expected to provide an interim report and keep going until next year.

It was made up of the chairs of three legislative committees as well as five citizens appointed from the education and business worlds...

Pat Forgey

Saying the "march of history is absolutely clear" an Anchorage senator wants to change the Alaska Constitution to allow same-sex marriage in the state, and get Alaska on the right side of history.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, Monday proposed a constitutional amendment that would reverse an earlier constitutional amendment that strictly defines marriage in Alaska.

In 1998 Alaska's voters overwhelmingly added to the state's constitution a provision requiring that marriage be only between one man and one woman. That followed congressional passage of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to block same-sex marriages a national level...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A new idea to improve schools on the cheap: Rewarding really good principals with one-time $5,000 bonuses.

That proposal from an Alaska Democrat is reminiscent of an earlier Republican proposal to provide cash bonuses to teachers and other staff in schools that showed high and improving achievement.

Bill sponsor Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said the bonuses would have an effect.

"We want to have excellent principals. Studies show that in increasing academic achievement, a principal can be responsible for up to 30 percent of academic achievement. Those are the established studies," he said...

Pat Forgey

Gov. Sean Parnell has named a lobbyist with strong Republican ties to represent Juneau's heavily Democratic downtown House district. But by selecting Sam Kito III for the appointment Friday, Parnell also got a political perk for himself: He was able to name an Alaska Native to the Legislature while he's running against an Alaska Native for re-election.

Kito, if he wins the required confirmation by other Democrats in the House, would replace Rep. Beth Kerttula, who accepted a fellowship at Stanford University in California...

Pat Forgey