Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN - Juneau
agutierrez (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.209.1799 | About Alexandra
Exxon and Chevron have made major contributions to a campaign that wants to preserve a controversial oil tax law that passed this year, according to recent filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Two years ago, oil companies spent over a million dollars to defeat an initiative that would have revived Alaska’s coastal management program. They’re on track to spend even more this election cycle to protect the new tax system they lobbied for.
During the recession, Alaska lawmakers spent record amounts on infrastructure as a way of putting people to work. They even went as far as calling their capital budgets “job bills.” But with less tax money coming in, the days of fat capital budgets are coming to an end. Should Alaskans be worried about what that means for the state unemployment rate?
Is AGIA being put to bed? When the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act was first introduced in 2007, it was sold as the state’s best hope of getting work started on a natural gas pipeline. But six years after the bill’s passage, the Parnell administration thinks it’s ready to go beyond that framework in an effort to get a LNG project built.
School districts currently manage their own health insurance plans. They pick their own providers, they decide how much of the premium they want to cover, and their employees can bargain for better benefits. But now, a senator from the Mat-Su Borough is pushing for the state to take over management of school health plans, and a report commissioned by the Legislature backs that proposal up as a way of saving money.
With oil revenues expected to decline, Gov. Sean Parnell wants to cut the state’s budget by $1 billion next year and draw on savings to balance the rest.
The Department of Administration has a new acting commissioner. Curtis Thayer has been promoted from his deputy position, and he will be taking over for Becky Hultberg, who left the position for a job with the state hospital association.
The Division of Elections has rejected a petition calling for the recall of Rep. Lindsey Holmes. While the recall group exceeded the number of signatures required by the state, state attorneys weren’t compelled by their legal reasoning for removing Holmes from office.
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.