Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN - Juneau
agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra
The state was already looking at deficit spending even before Wednesday’s revenue forecast came out, but now Alaska is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall. The governor also wants to put $3 billion toward the state’s unfunded pension liabilities. Lawmakers plan to cover that gap with a mix of budget cuts and savings withdrawals.
The State of Alaska is expecting to take in $2 billion less in oil taxes over the next fiscal year, according to the Department of Revenue’s fall forecast. That means a 30 percent drop in the state’s unrestricted general fund, the pool of money that the state’s elected leaders control.
Over the next year, millions of dollars are expected to enter Alaska in the form of campaign spending. The Alaska Senate race could end up being one of the more expensive races in the country, because Republicans need to unseat Democrat Mark Begich if they want to take control of Congress. Since much of the money is going to be spent on political ads, some state legislators would like to see stronger federal disclosure laws, so voters know who’s paying for the airtime.
Bilge water is the nasty stuff that collects at the bottom of a boat. It can contain engine oil and anti-freeze, and releasing it in state waters is illegal. But even though it’s a crime, the state doesn’t get too many chances to prosecute it. Last week, the Department of Law scored a rare legal victory when a bilge water case was decided in their favor.
For the past year, legislators have been required to treat their office accounts as income. They got a lump sum from the state, and were expected to spend that money on stationery and mailers under the honor system. Now, they’re moving back to a policy where they have to submit receipts for those expenditures.
A group opposed to the proposed Pebble Mine has secured enough signatures to get their initiative on the ballot.
Since the Legislature gaveled out this spring, state officials have been trying to build support for a controversial land management bill that couldn’t get enough votes in the final days of session. Public meetings were supposed to be part of their outreach effort. But now the Department of Natural Resources has called those meetings off.
Gov. Sean Parnell has named Joe Balash as his Natural Resources commissioner. Balash has served as acting commissioner since September, and he was previously a deputy in the department. He was one of the governor’s point people on the recent overhaul of the state’s oil tax system.
Gov. Sean Parnell’s cabinet continues to experience turnover. Becky Hultberg is resigning from her post as commissioner of the Department of Administration.
Commercial fishing groups are pushing back against a proposed ballot initiative that would ban a sector of their industry.
The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance submitted signatures from 100 initiative sponsors to the Division of Elections on Wednesday, the first step in the application process. The Alliance is a newly formed group of sport fishermen, river guides and fisheries advocates.
A group that wants to remove state legislator Lindsey Holmes from office is turning in their recall application Wednesday morning.
When it comes to retirement benefits, the state is looking at a $12 billion shortfall. Just how that’s going to be paid off is expected to be a big issue for the Legislature next session. The Parnell administration is thinking about putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s retirement funds to help close the gap.
For years, Facebook access has been a vexing issue for the Legislature. Lawmakers have even joked that it’s second only to oil taxes in the amount of controversy it stirs up. On Wednesday, the committee that sets office rules for the Capitol finally approved a policy for staff use of the social networking site.
With the control of Congress in balance, the Alaska Senate race is expected to be one of the more high profile races in the country.The Republican National Committee has gotten involved, and veterans of the Romney and McCain presidential campaigns are already working to unseat Democrat Mark Begich, but what about the House race? The odds may be long, but two Democrats are already competing for the chance to take on Don Young.
The Anchorage Democrat had been considering jumping into the gubernatorial race, but set aside those plans after former Juneau mayor and Permanent Fund Division Director Byron Mallott announced he would seek the Democratic nomination. French says he wanted to avoid expending resources on a competitive primary race.