Tim Bradner

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.

Week 8 in Juneau: House moves budget, Senate passes Medicaid reform

Legislators in the state House signaled what they hope to achieve — a state spending reduction of several hundred million dollars — in their first formal budget actions Thursday and Friday on the fiscal year 2017 state budget.

But just how much would be cut in the House budget is still a moving target, said David Teal, director of the Legislative Finance Division, a support agency to the Legislature.

Week 7 in Juneau: budget discussions quicken pace

JUNEAU—The Legislature passed its halfway mark this week, Day 45 on Thursday, and the pace of work is quickening.

Budget subcommittees in the state House finished their work on agency budgets last week. The House Finance Committee folded those into a draft operating budget bill.

Final amendments to that will be made in the committee. A final budget is set to go to the floor of the House by Wednesday, and then to the Senate by Friday. Meanwhile the Senate’s own budget subcommittees are at work.

Week 6 in Juneau: House makes budget recommendations

JUNEAU—Friday was day 39, and wrapped up week six of the 2016 legislative session. Next week, day 45 will the halfway point of the 90-day session.

Things are busy in the capitol building. Budget subcommittees of the House Finance Committee closed out their work, handing in recommendations to the full Finance panel, which will hold public hearings this week. Meanwhile, Senate budget subcommittees continue working, to be ready when the House formally transmits its version of the operating budget, which is expected in early to mid-March.

Week 5 in Juneau: A somber mood after passing of Gruenberg

JUNEAU—The mood in the capitol building was somber this week.

Legislators were saddened by the unexpected death last Sunday of Rep. Max Gruenberg, a long-serving and well-liked lawmaker.

On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Walker, flanked by top industry executives, announced the Alaska LNG Project was going on the slow-track. Walker did everything he could to avoid saying delay, but that was the effect of what the governor did say.

Finally, oil prices and state revenues are still in the pits, with no relief in sight.

Week 4 in Juneau: Gov’s oil tax credit overhaul under scrutiny

Independent companies developing new oil and gas projects are anxiously watching a major revamp of the state’s petroleum tax credit incentive program, but bills making those changes seem on a slow track in the state Legislature.

Hearings have been underway in the House Resources committee on House Bill 247, the tax credit bill introduced by Gov. Bill Walker, but it’s uncertain when the committee will act on it.

The bill must still go to the House Finance Committee and then to the Senate, and the 2016 legislative session is about one-third over.

Week 3 in Juneau: ‘We need to man up and do our jobs’

JUNEAU — The Legislature ground through its 18th day in Juneau as of Feb. 5 with 72 days to go until its scheduled adjournment.

Whether that actually happens depends on a lot of things, mainly whether an agreement can be reached with the House Minority, mostly Democrats, on a draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, or CBR, a state savings account.

House minority votes are needed to get a three-fourths majority to make a CBR draw, and the worry is that extended wrangling over budget cuts may throw the Legislature into an extended overtime, as happened last year.

Two weeks down: Legislature takes up budget, taxes, fund earnings and AK LNG

JUNEAU — The Legislature finished the second week of its 2016 session Friday, with committees settling down to work on bills and, most important, the budget for upcoming Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1.

Lawmakers are still grappling with what to do about the huge state budget deficit, which Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, co-chair of Senate Finance Committee, said could be near $4 billion.

Buckling down in face of budget deficit

State legislators are back in Juneau for the 2016 legislative session, and they’re back facing a huge budget deficit.

Some legislative leaders say they’re ready to step up to the plate to deal with it.

Three Republican senators — Senate President Kevin Meyer, Finance Co-chair Anna MacKinnon and Resources Chair Cathy Giessel — say some combination of budget cuts and new revenues such as use of Permanent Fund earnings for this year are needed to solve the problem.

Cuts must come first, all three say. But cuts alone won’t do the job.

Real estate market forecast sees softening in Anchorage

Anchorage’s commercial and residential real estate market looks to be relatively stable this year, although some softening is expected.

Local realtors and brokers gave their best estimates for different segments of the Anchorage bowl real estate market at the annual Building Owners and Manager’s Association forecast luncheon Dec. 8.

After flooding, work continues to re-bury TAPS

Flooding of the Dalton Highway last spring caught a lot of attention, mainly because the vital road link to the North Slope oil fields was cut off for days. Hundreds of trucks delivering supplies and equipment were backed up and delayed.

What got very little, if any, attention was that washed-out areas nearby exposed buried parts of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System to the open air and moving water.

Support for using investment earnings, taxes after cuts

The idea of using a potion of Permanent Fund earnings to narrow the huge state budget gap is gaining traction in the Legislature. Two Senate leaders, Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, and Resources Committee Chair Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, say some way of using investment earnings has to be part of the equation, although both say additional spending cuts should come first.

For Sullivan, focus on foreign policy, fulfilling promises

It has been a busy first year in Congress for Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan. Elected in November 2014, the former state Natural Resources Commissioner and Attorney General took office in January in the new Republican-controlled Congress.

Sullivan has an increasing role in foreign policy with his military background — he still serves in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve — and his U.S. State Department experience, where he was Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business from 2006-09.

Alyeska pouring efforts into cold-weather ops

It has been a warm winter so far, and operators of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System operators are thankful. But winter has just begun, and the worry of cold temperatures in Interior Alaska and a midwinter “event” that halts pipeline operations, like what happened in 2011, is never far from mind.

Since that suspenseful event when Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. engineers were concerned they couldn’t restart the pipeline, they have been aggressive about putting countermeasures in place.

Anchorage chamber, FEDC issue support for broad-based revenue

Two influential Alaska business organizations are endorsing use of a portion of Permanent Fund earnings to help support the state budget along with broad-based taxes. Both also said they support continued reductions in state spending.

On the tax question, one group, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, said it supports a state sales tax, while a second organization, the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp., or FEDC, did not specify a tax but endorsed the concept of a broad-based tax.

Both groups put out press releases, FEDC on Dec. 18 and the Anchorage Chamber on Dec. 22.

Fights over taxes, spending, revenue

There seems little doubt that the 2016 state legislative session will be pretty ugly.

The money situation is getting worse and there’s no reason to believe that the House minority of the Independent Democrat caucus won’t again use its leverage to extract budget concessions from the Republican-controlled House and Senate Majority.

A critical year lies ahead for Alaska LNG Project agreements

The coming year is a critical one for the Alaska LNG Project. Continued progress on Alaska LNG is vital to Alaska’s long-term economy, and the state budget. If targets are missed, the state’s future, already cloudy because of short-term state revenue issues, will be challenged.

If the project does proceed, the sales of natural gas from the North Slope, as liquefied natural gas, or LNG, will bring new petroleum revenues to the state to replace declining oil income.

North Slope companies to keep up spending

What lies ahead for Alaska’s oil and gas industry in 2016?

The overwhelming unknown is the price of crude oil, and whether it will continue to go down, stabilize or creep upward as has been predicted.

What is causing the slump is well known. There’s too much oil supply on the market and on the demand side, the economic slowdown in China has taken the wind out the world commodities boom, affecting not just oil but also metal prices.

YEAR IN REVIEW: New production by ConocoPhillips highlights ‘15

ConocoPhilliips had a busy 2015 on the North Slope, completing two new oil projects and planning two others, despite the plunge in crude oil prices.

Late in the year the company’s CD-5 project, near the Alpine field on the western Slope, was completed and began production. Earlier in the fall ConocoPhillips completed its Drill Site 2-S in the Kuparuk River field, and it is also now producing.

Banks warn of impacts for breaking Anchorage LIO lease

Editor's note: This story has been modified from the first version posted online to reflect the owner of the Anchorage office as 716 West Fourth Avenue LLC, of which developer Mark Pfeffer is a member, and to include the correct number of appraisals on the building which was four and not three as originally written.

The Alaska Legislature’s 10-year lease on its 64,000-square-foot office building in Anchorage has become a political football, possibly a preview of fireworks to come in the 2016 legislative session.


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