Tim Bradner

Budget cuts take bite from job training programs

Budget cuts to state and university training programs have become a major concern for industry leaders who worry about the “graying” the workforce in Alaska’s key industries, and having enough future skilled workers. The concern is across-the-board, from oil and gas to mining, maritime, seafood — you name it.

The skilled-worker gap is actually a problem now, even with the state facing economic uncertainties.

OMB director: State personnel reduced by 1,700 in last two years

State budget cuts are beginning to hit home, in terms of jobs and economic impact.

Office of Management and Budget Director Pat Pitney said state employee numbers have dropped by 1,700 in the last two years and the total will grow by another 400 in the next 12 months.

So far Anchorage and Juneau are feeling the brunt of the reductions, with both communities down about 500 state workers each, Pitney said at a Commonwealth North meeting July 22.

Commonwealth North is an Anchorage-based public policy group.

Seasonal advantage gives state peony market room to grow

Alaska’s oil industry may be in a slump but there’s one new industry rising: the growing and export of fresh flowers, in particular peonies.

For certain raising peonies, the large blossoms beloved for weddings and other special events around the world, won’t replace oil as a source of high-paid jobs or state revenues, at least anytime soon.

DNR transition at top takes place amid budget challenges

When outgoing Natural Resources Commissioner Marty Rutherford gives the keys to incoming commissioner Andy Mack, she will be handing over a major state agency that is, considering the state budget, in pretty good shape.

Rutherford is a 27-year veteran Department of Natural Resources administrator who retired June 30 after having served for years as deputy commissioner with several stints as acting commissioner, the most recent since March with the departure of former commissioner Mark Myers.

Giessel, MacKinnon skeptical of new direction on AK LNG

A briefing planned for next Wednesday on the Alaska LNG Project promises to be interesting, and possibly heated.

The state House and Senate Resources committees are due to meet June 29 for a scheduled update from industry and state officials on the big pipeline and liquefied natural gas project.

Alaska is a partner in Alaska LNG with the three major North Slope producers, BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.

Legislature takes weekend pause after movement on credits, Fund earnings

The Legislature is still trying to finish its business after there was a flurry of activity this week with the passage of House Bill 247, the embattled oil tax credit bill, and the Senate’s passage of a Permanent Fund earnings restructuring, in Senate Bill 128.

Several tax bills proposed by Gov. Bill Walker were moved out of the House Finance Committee, but not debated on the floor.

The previous week the state operating and capital budgets were passed.

Budget deal overshadowed by inaction on oil tax credits, Fund earnings

State legislators managed to pass a budget last week funded by cash reserves, but at week’s end an impasse continued over a long-term plan to restructure state finances and changes to a complex oil tax credit bill.

The House Minority agreed to the votes needed to fund the budget after Republican leaders in the House and Senate agreed to add about $74 million in funds that had been cut, mainly in education, back into the budget.

June 1 looms as some legislative work continues over holiday

Legislators remained in special session in Juneau through the Memorial Day weekend and some committees actually scheduled meetings to work on bills, although many lawmakers were heading home Friday for the long holiday weekend.

The special session convened May 23, with legislators called back by Gov. Bill Walker after they failed to pass key bills, including the budget, by the legal end of the regular 2016 session on May 18. The state fiscal year ends June 30, and layoff notices will be sent to state employees June 1.

Lawmakers face crunch of time, hotel space as special session begins

Legislators were back in Juneau Monday morning, May 23, meeting in special session to resume work on a tangle of critical bills they failed to complete May 18 when the regular 2016 session had to end. It was the legal 120-day limit of the regular session.

One new worry for legislators, however, is whether they might be kicked out of hotel rooms and apartments if the special session extends into June when Juneau’s annual tourism hotel room crunch hits.

Limiting ER ‘over-users’ an attempt at cost control

Trouble comes knocking at Dr. Anne Zink’s emergency room door at the Mat-Su Regional Hospital near Palmer.

The patient is a middle-aged housewife, upper middle class, educated, addicted and shopping for painkillers. Zink doesn’t know that.

This is a problem.

Alaska has a state prescription drug database, but it takes time to log in and use. Zink doesn’t have time. Things move too fast in emergency rooms.

“I need this information now, in real-time. Without it, I’m practicing blind,” she said.

Overtime Week 4: Legislature still bogged down as latest oil tax revision struggles to get traction

There appears to be some movement, finally, in the quagmire that has become the 2016 state legislative session. The House Rules Committee held hearings during the week on a new version of House Bill 247, the controversial state oil tax credit bill, and moved the bill out of committee Thursday afternoon.

On Friday the House took the bill up for floor action and debated amendments. It was unclear, however, whether there are enough votes to move the bill out of the House.

Overtime Week 3: Criminal justice reform passes House, credit issue still unresolved

The state House passed a major criminal justice reform bill late Thursday after days of wrangling over amendments on the floor and lengthy committee hearings. The vote was 28-11 in favor of passage.

The bill now goes back to the Senate, which passed the bill 16-2 on April 9. Following the House passage, senators will now review changes made in the House. It is expected that the changes will be accepted, however, which avoids the need for a conference committee on the bill.

In a first, no bids offered at Cook Inlet lease sale

No bidders showed up for a Cook Inlet oil and gas lease sale planned for May 5, and a top industry official blames a toxic political environment that has developed in Juneau over oil and gas tax legislation.

“It is no wonder there were no bids,” said Alaska Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Kara Moriarty. “What company would even consider new projects in Cook Inlet at a time when the Alaska Legislature is considering changes that will make it more expensive to operate in the basin?”

A top state official said other factors were in play, however.

Overtime Week 2: Jackhammers only thing that seem to be working

The Legislature is now two weeks into overtime — the 90th day adjournment seems an age ago — and not much is happening.

Committee meeting notices are posted and then cancelled. A trial balloon of a compromise on the contentious oil tax bill is floated, but then sinks.

The budget conference committee has gone through much of its work, and the all-important Permanent Fund earnings bills are still in the House and Finance committees.

Overtime in Juneau: ‘Musk ox’ caucus causing headaches for House leadership

The bad news is that the Legislature is still in Juneau. The good news is that the jackhammers have showed up.

Major reconstruction work has restarted on the capitol building — this is phase two of a two-year project — and now an added pressure on legislators to get done is just the noise.

Streets are also blocked around the capitol too, making access difficult.

Week 13 in Juneau: House bogs down over oil tax credits

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Sunday, April 17, but hardly anyone in the state capitol building now thinks that will happen. Too many balls are still in the air.

Two big issues include the adoption of a procedure to draw funds from Permanent Fund earnings to help fund the state budget, and a scaling down of the state’s oil and gas exploration and development tax credit program, both which are highly controversial.

Week 12 in Juneau: Huge issues at play with week to go

JUNEAU — Friday, April 8, was Day 81 of the 2016 legislative session with nine more days to the scheduled adjournment, April 17.

Things are normal for this point in the session: Murky.

The hallways are surprisingly quiet. Legislators seem mostly huddled in their offices. The Finance committees, which is where the action is now, come to life at 5 p.m. when the big bills are brought up. Meetings typically go into the evenings.

Week 11 in Juneau: Tax credits, pension cost-shifting could derail session

The 2015 legislative session is set to adjourn in about two weeks, on April 17.

Now is the time of the session, toward its end, that things spring from the woodwork and tempers can fray.  People are now watching closely for events that can derail an orderly end to the session, and abruptly end bills that have long been worked on.

It happens every session, but the situation seems more acute this year with a huge budget deficit and solutions to that being worked on that can at best cover only part of the financial gap.

Week 10 in Juneau: Backburner bills and budget items

JUNEAU — It’s a different year for state legislators now in session in the state capital.

People are very occupied with budget issues and the state’s financial crisis but it is also proving to be a productive time to work on other issues, things that can save money.

A lot of these are small things. In a previous Legislature, when there was lots of money, these bills would fall through the cracks because people were busy with other legislation or chasing capital budget appropriations.

Week 9 from Juneau: Budget progress but work aplenty remains

Both the state House and Senate have passed their separate versions of the state operating budget, the House on March 11 and the Senate on March 14.

With that done – or mostly done as sections of the operating budget still need work – legislators’ attention in the final weeks of the 2016 session is to focus on revenue measures.

At least that was the plan laid out earlier by House and Senate leaders.

The 2016 session hit its 60th day Friday, March 18, the two-thirds mark. Adjournment of the 90-day session is scheduled for Sunday, April 17.

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