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Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Here's another financial worry for Alaska and new Gov. Bill Walker.

Stock markets and many other investments have been on a tear recently, adding to Alaska's billions in savings and bulking up the state's troubled retirement trust funds.

But Department of Revenue staff and their outside advisers are worrying that markets may be headed for a fall.

Markets, especially stock markets, go up and down regularly and are currently "pricey," said Gary Robertson with Callan Associates, which advises Alaska agencies on investments.

He warned that markets have risen for so many years that they are likely to go down, because they always do, referring to the Wall Street adage about market cycles that "trees don't grow to the sky."...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Following complaints that the ferry being built to replace the aged Tustumena would be too big for Kodiak's cramped harbor, the vessel has been redesigned. But the new plan from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has the vessel lengthened by 5 feet.

It will be the stern, not the bow, that will be lengthened, said DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow. That should limit the impact on neighbors along the crowded waterfront, he said.

But some in Kodiak are saying the change surprises them, and that an even longer vessel will be a problem no matter which end is lengthened...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Hinting at difficult times ahead, Gov. Bill Walker talked of tough times in Alaska's past and how his family, other Alaska families and the state as a whole survived and prospered.

"My family's story is Alaska's story," Walker told a packed Centennial Hall in Juneau where he was sworn in as governor Monday under spectacular blue skies.

The rare sunny weather, following the year's first snowfall, seemed to contribute to a sense of optimism in the room.

The mood was boosted by one of Juneau's own, Democratic Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, half of the "unity ticket" that made the Walker governorship a reality...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov .-elect Bill Walker won't get a pay raise next year, thanks in part to Rick Halford , the co-chair of the governor-elect's transition team .

Halford also chairs the State Officers Compensation Commission , which is charged with setting salaries for top state officials, including the governor, lieutenant governor, legislators and department heads such as the attorney general and commissioners.

That commission this fall decided not to recommend pay raises for any positions this year in the face of years of growing state budget deficits...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska employment edged up a bit in the first half of 2014, led by growth in the construction sector, but cuts to government spending are already taking a toll, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Employment in Alaska grew 0.6 percent this year compared to the first half of 2013, according to the department's Research and Analysis Section. During the six-month period Alaska had 332,478 jobs, up 1,978 from the same time in 2013.

Wage growth was stronger than job growth, increasing 3 percent for the period, after adjusting for inflation. That amounted to total wages of $6.7 billion paid in Alaska, up by $253 million during the period...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Legislators are planning to look into a recently revealed benefit for a new oil field on Alaska's North Slope that the administration of Gov. Sean Parnell says is needed, in addition to the oil-tax restructuring Senate Bill 21, to get the field into production.

The Legislature's Budget and Audit Committee will review a 60 percent, multiyear reduction in royalties recommended for Caelus Energy for the new Nuna project, just south of its Oooguruk field on the North Slope. That discussion will take place Dec. 2, the day after new Gov. Bill Walker is scheduled to be sworn in in Juneau...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The more than decade-long battle over a road out of Juneau has been fought in court, in the Legislature and city assemblies and at the ballot box. Now it is being fought with dueling studies.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities wants to build what it calls the Juneau Access Improvement Project , but which locals simply call "the road."...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Gov.-elect Bill Walker will be sworn into office in the state capital, leading to sighs of relief in Juneau, which is still smarting from former Gov . Sarah Palin's decision to be inaugurated in Fairbanks.

Following Palin's abrupt resignation, new Gov. Sean Parnell was then sworn in in Fairbanks as well.

But Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan is praising the decision by Walker and running mate Byron Mallott to be inaugurated in Juneau.

"I'm really happy that this is back in Juneau, but there will be inaugural balls all over," Egan said.

"This is going back to how it used to be," he said.

Inaugural balls are typically scheduled by local communities early in the following year...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Top federal officials overseeing the Tongass National Forest are disputing environmental group claims that an announced shift to logging second-growth timber instead of controversial old growth has "stalled" but are acknowledging the transition will take time.

Robert Bonnie, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, said the change will take 10 to 15 years, and that old-growth harvests will have to continue in the meantime to protect local communities reliant on the industry.

"There's going to be a need for old-growth timber supply for several years," said Bonnie, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU - Environmental groups that have stopped most logging on the Tongass National Forest with decades of opposition and lawsuits are now saying most of what remains could easily be done away with as well.

They're urging the U.S. Forest Service to stop spending its money on timber sales, and instead devote its limited budget to promoting tourism, fishing and other growth industries.

"These resources could be put to better use by investing in programs and projects that support larger and more vibrant industries," said Ben Alexander of Headwaters Economics at a Tuesday press conference hosted by Trout Unlimited...

Pat Forgey