Tim Bradner

Race for gov shaping up, House to be in play

What’s in the crystal ball for the 2018 governor’s race?

The view is still cloudy but vague images can be discerned in the glass. One looks strikingly like Gov. Bill Walker, and we can see Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott right behind him.

Other images are fleeting — former state Sen. Charlie Huggins, current Sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla, former House Speaker and current Rep. Mike Chenault, former U.S. Sen. and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich and Scott Hawkins.

Crime bill looks certain, taxes less so as special session grinds on

The Legislature is grinding its way through the second week of its special session — the fourth for 2017 — and it now seems clear that public anger over a spike in theft and petty crime has boiled over and diverted legislators from Gov. Bill Walker’s original purpose the session, which was to pass a new revenue measure aimed at easing the state’s deficit.

Lawmakers gaveled in to the special session Oct. 23 but quickly became preoccupied with Senate Bill 54, a bill addressing problems in SB 91, a criminal justice reform bill passed in 2016.

Production predicted to rise for third straight year

The State of Alaska is forecasting an increase in oil production for the third year in a row. Officials from the departments of Natural Resources and Revenue briefed legislators on the latest forecast Oct. 30, predicting an average of 533,000 barrels per day on the North Slope during the current fiscal year.

This estimate is based on four months of production data since July 1, the beginning of fiscal year 2018, said Ed King, a petroleum economist with the Department of Natural Resources.

Missile tests stand up Alaska Aerospace business

North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un tested his new intercontinental ballistic missiles twice in July.

It was his way of showing the world he has a big one. Both times events in Alaska deflated him, at least a bit.

Kim’s first test was July 4 and his second on July 29. The U.S. fired off a test missile interceptor July 10 from Kodiak’s Pacific Spaceport with a second interceptor launched July 30, one day after Kim fired off his second test ICBM.

Vigor works to cut turnover by training local workforce

Vigor Industrial, operator of shipyards in Ketchikan and Seward, has embraced training of a local workforce as its key strategy in reducing a costly problem with turnover of skilled workers, company officials say.

In 2015, with a $101 million contract in hand to build two new, 280-foot state ferries and an increasing workload from the fishing industry, Vigor experienced a 46 percent turnover.

Sitka direct marketing sales soaring

It could signal fundamental changes in the way seafood will be marketed for a century-old Alaska industry. Or it could be just another marketing niche, profitable for just a few.

Either way, Sitka Salmon Shares caught a lot of attention when it began direct sales of Alaska fish to Lower 48 consumers in 2012.

Direct marketing of Alaska fish to the Lower 48 is hardly a new idea. Years ago, Sitka harvester Sherry Tuttle drove around San Francisco with king salmon in the trunk of the car, begging chefs to try the product. They did, and liked it.

Physicians’ initiative tackles cost through coordinated care

An Anchorage-based physicians’ initiative is aiming at improving health and reducing medical costs through a coordinated care program, mainly by reducing reliance on hospital emergency rooms for routine or non-emergency problems.

The goal is to steer patients toward more effective care, typically through primary care and better use of specialists, reducing the burden on hospital emergency rooms, the most expensive form of health care.

Last-minute bill could aid municipal redevelopment

The Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 100 on the final day of the regular session on May 17 could now give municipalities new flexibility for economic development tax incentives.

The bill is being transmitted to Gov. Bill Walker, who must still sign it.

Other provisions important to local governments, including clarification of state law related to municipal liens along with new authority for second class boroughs to establish emergency service areas, were included in the final version of SB 100.

One week down without much progress

JUNEAU — Legislators ended their first week of a special session May 24 with little progress in passing a state budget or bills relating to a restructuring of state finances, which are now mostly dependent on oil revenues and savings accounts.

The hallways of the state capitol are virtually empty with most lawmakers home for an extended break, which has now been extended through the Memorial Day weekend.

State will pursue revised rules for NPR-A with Interior Dept.

State officials will push new U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for a revamp of Obama administration rules restricting oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, state Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack said May 12.

“We will be submitting a specific proposal within the next couple of weeks to Secretary Zinke. This grows out of meetings our governor, Bill Walker, had with the secretary earlier this year in which he seemed receptive,” Mack said in an interview.

Legislators, industry, work out independent contractor definition

A knotty problem over the definition of an independent contractor in a bill dealing with workers’ compensation has been worked out in the Legislature.

However, delays created by extended negotiations over the issue, between business groups and the state administration, now mean House Bill 79 will remain in the House Finance Committee until the 2018 legislative session.

But with the kinks worked out HB 79 should move easily toward passage next year.

State program shows success recruiting health workers

A seven-year-old program to recruit medical professionals to Alaska led by the Department of Health and Social Services has resulted in 254 physicians, behavioral specialists, dentists and other professionals coming to or staying in Alaska to work.

Most were recruited for rural and small communities, which is where shortages are most acute.

The state program is called SHARP, short for the tongue-twisting Supporting Health Access (through loan) Repayment Program, and it helps graduating health professionals handle mountains of student loan debt.

Lower profile legislation chugs through extended session

As the legislative session in Juneau grinds on toward May approaching the 120-day constitutional limit, a number of bills important to business are still pending.

Two business-related measures have passed, and some are at an advanced stage that could possibly become law this year.

Most, however, will wait until 2018. In a two-year session, bills introduced in the first year can be held over to the second.

Red Dog mine owner Teck reaches tax deal with borough

A contentious dispute over taxes is close to resolution between Teck Alaska, operator of the Red Dog Mine north of Kotzebue and the North West Arctic Borough.

A new payment-in-lieu-of-tax, or PILT, has been agreed to by Teck and borough administrators, and is expected to be approved by the North West Arctic Borough assembly. It would result in payments to the borough ranging from $18 million to $26 million per year for 10 years.

According to Teck’s annual financial filing, the new PILT will be about 30 percent larger than the last agreement.

Cargo carriers concerned about tax hike

JUNEAU — Most attention focused on the state Legislature is on the big revenue bills: a state income tax, more changes in oil taxes and restructuring how Permanent Fund income is managed.

But there are serious issues bubbling just below the surface, and even legislators aren’t aware of how they could adversely affect the state’s economy.

Take air cargo, for example, which provides the majority of the revenues to Alaska’s international airports in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Habitat bill draws attention, but won’t get vote this year

JUNEAU — It is already being dubbed, “fish first, nothing else.”

Reps. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, have introduced a bill that would set up a new fisheries habitat permitting system, to be administered by the state Department of Fish and Game, for construction projects that affect waterways.

Critics say the legislation would add serious burdens to environmental permit systems that are complicated enough, and set standards that many development projects will be unable to meet.

Northrim: Resilient in recession, state must ‘get our act together’

FAIRBANKS — For a state officially in recession, the traditional economic indicators of Alaska’s economy are showing a remarkable resiliency, Northrim Bank economist Mark Edwards says.

Edwards and other Northrim officials presented the bank’s 2016 economic overview in a presentation in Fairbanks on April 11, with similar events to be held in Juneau on April 12 and Anchorage on April 14.

PacRim owners shelve Chuitna coal mine plans

PacRim Coal’s plan for a 12.5 million-tons per year export coal mine has been put on hold, very likely ending work to develop the mine that has spanned decades.

PacRim, an affiliate of Dallas-based Hunt Oil Co., has withdrawn from a lengthy quest for regulatory approvals for its Chuitna Coal Project, a spokesman said.

The project is in the Beluga coalfields on the west side of Cook Inlet, 50 miles west of Anchorage.

Tempers flaring as House, Senate spar over budget fixes

JUNEAU — Locomotives at each end of the Capitol’s second floor were being fired up this week — figuratively, at least — one at the state House end of the second floor and one at the state Senate end.

A train wreck in the middle seems unavoidable.

House leaders are insisting on a state income tax, a hike in oil taxes and little to any cuts to the state budget. Senate leaders want about $200 million in spending cuts, a Permanent Fund income restructuring and no new taxes on personal income or increased taxes on oil production.

Insurance officials hope federal waiver will cover reinsurance costs

State officials and insurance companies in Alaska say they are encouraged by positive receptions so far from President Donald Trump’s administration on an application for federally-backed health “reinsurance” program for individual health insurance policies sold in the state that have been hit hard with losses.

If the proposal is accepted, federal funds could replace a $55 million, one-year backstop put in place by the state in 2016, in House Bill 367, to prop up the individual health insurance market. The funding expires at the end of this year.


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