Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Angry Juneau seniors are accusing the city government of targeting them with an unfair tax increase, and some are threatening retaliation. The threats range from withholding their volunteer labor and donations to nonprofits to retribution at the ballot box -- and even leaving town for places where they say seniors are considered assets to the community. "The amount of hours we put in and give to this city are phenomenal, and you want to balance your budget on our backs," said retired federal employee Nora Laughlin. She was speaking to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, and what's got Laughlin and other older residents so worked up is the loss of their blanket exemption to the city's 5 percent retail sales tax. Currently, residents aged 65 and older can get a card from the...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Blasting North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower's "egregious" conduct and a "glaring lack of cooperation" with its investigation, Alaska's top elections regulator slapped her with a $34,460 fine, along with an assessment for costs it said were driven up by that lack of assistance. The Alaska Public Offices Commission hit Brower with the unusually large civil penalty after a months-long investigation into her campaign for re-election to the mayor's post last year. The fine appears to be the largest ever against a candidate in Alaska, and one of the largest campaign violation penalties ever sought by APOC. Brower never filed her 2014 end-of-the-year disclosure report, due in January, or ever provided complete information APOC investigators requested. From what information...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- A legislative budget scheme that may have been used to make budget numbers look better in the past threatens this year to drive up the state budget by $45 million. Now, the Alaska Retirement Management Board says it will resist legislative direction to take an action that some members said was "not actuarially sound" and come up with its own budget numbers. Board member Sheldon Fisher, Gov. Bill Walker's commissioner of the Department of Administration, called the board's action "prudent" and questioned whether legislators really knew what they were doing when they attempted to change how retirement contributions are calculated. "It's not something the Legislature considered in a very deep or substantial way," Fisher said during a board meeting Thursday in Fairbanks. Board...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- In Wrangell, the state has stepped in to clean up a badly contaminated junkyard after federal assistance fell through. The Southeast island town of 2,400 couldn't afford the cleanup and had originally looked to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for help. "We'd been working with them over 3 to 4 years and they did an assessment that found very high levels of lead and some other things," said Carol Rushmore, Wrangell's planning and zoning administrator. The former Byford Salvage junkyard for decades accepted cars, drums and various other items, including batteries and tires, before going out of business in the 1990s. A new owner shipped out cars and metal and tried to clean up the site but failed, and has since vanished. But just as Wrangell was counting on a federal grant...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- The big oil companies that plan to produce and ship North Slope natural gas have agreed to pay $16.5 billion in property taxes on the huge project, but they'll pay them to the state instead of local governments, Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck said Wednesday. That payment, structured as payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT, will include $800 million in "impact" payments, mostly for communities along the pipeline route. The payments will be applied to costs before the $55 billion project begins producing liquefied natural gas for export from Cook Inlet. Reaching agreement on the property tax issue will make it easier to get a deal on a project and prevent future conflicts, Hoffbeck said. "In order to do the fiscal modeling for this project we needed to lock down some of these...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Juneau's promoters say the Capitol will be ready to hold a special session of the Alaska Legislature this fall and is very nearly ready today after a summer full of work winds down. Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, said that because special sessions require 30 days' notice, the multi-year renovation and seismic retrofit will be mostly done by the time the not-yet-called session begins. "Most of the work is wrapping up and we're getting very close to being done for the season," she said. There may be some inconveniences, such as a few legislative offices and small conference rooms being unavailable, but nothing that can't be worked around, she said. Gov. Bill Walker has said he intends to call a special session of the Legislature to discuss unspecified natural gas pipeline issues but...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- The North Slope Borough has become fabulously wealthy from taxes on the oil industry and its massive Prudhoe Bay infrastructure. In addition to subsidies of thousands of dollars per resident for the costs of water, sewer, lights and heat, the nation's northernmost municipality even has its own permanent fund. At about half a billion dollars, the borough's permanent fund is equal to the size of the Alaska Permanent Fund on a relative, per-person basis. But while a decline in the price of oil is hitting the state's budget hard and threatening to drive Alaska into a recession, the North Slope Borough is still sitting pretty. That's because the borough gets its revenue from property taxes on $18 billion worth of industry infrastructure there, not on taxes on income or profits or...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- The University of Alaska's new president, former telecommunications executive Jim Johnsen , will earn $325,000 per year on his five-year contract to lead the state's higher education system But he can also boost his salary by as much as $75,000 each year by meeting a series of goals the Board of Regents adopted as an extra incentive Friday while meeting in Juneau. "We structured these metrics so that he has to earn them, it's not a given," said Jo Heckman, the board's chair. "If he cannot produce what we're looking for, he doesn't get any of that," she said. Bonuses for performance have long been part of the business world and are being used increasingly in the public sector, Heckman said. That makes this a good time to adopt the bonus system, as Johnsen is coming directly from...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- Gov. Bill Walker wants a 5 percent cut to the state's higher education budget next year as Alaska continues to struggle with projected multibillion-dollar budget deficits. But some members of the University of Alaska Board of Regents say they should resist what they see as damaging cuts, which they fear might pave the way for the Legislature to make even bigger cuts. Meanwhile, others feared that a confrontational stance could result in even more drastic cuts. Meeting in Juneau this week, the 11-member board got its first look at new University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen's new budget that they'll revise and adopt in November. Board members didn't like what they heard and saw. "We just can't keep cutting ourselves into excellence. It just doesn't work," said board chair Jo...Pat Forgey
JUNEAU -- The state's new financial system, dubbed IRIS, is aimed at simplifying the payment of the state's bills and was even claimed to be a way to improve transparency about where the state is spending its money. But after one part of that project went live in July, the Integrated Resource Information System wound up disabling one of the state's existing transparency initiatives, the " Checkbook Online " website that posts spreadsheets listing state payments. State Department of Administration officials say they're working to restore public access to what was once available, even if they may be months away from the new transparency that was once promised. Spokesman Andy Mills said the department is "working on getting the information out of the new system and into the Online Checkbook...Pat Forgey