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Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A controversial proposal for the state to take over responsibility for development of the controversial Knik Arm Crossing was dealt a blow in the Legislature Wednesday night, but it may not be fatal.

Gov. Sean Parnell last year called the bridge plan being advanced by the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority unworkable, and abandoned its public-private partnership for a completely publicly financed project.

The Knik Arm Crossing project bill spent more than a week waiting for agreement by the House of Representatives to the changes made in the Senate...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Schools around Alaska next year will get more money, as well as an increase in the base student allocation they've long been seeking, but critics of the deal announced Wednesday evening say both amounts are far too small.

"We've just locked in three years of cuts," said Alyse Galvin, with Great Alaska Schools, an informal group of parents and school advocates who were pushing for better school funding...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaska's film tax credit program is being given an extended lease on life by senators who voted Wednesday to keep the program going until 2018.

House Bill 308 is aimed at seeing that the state's many tax credits serve their intended purpose and don't keep going "like zombies," and it has won approval in both houses. It had previously called for ending the program in 2016, but Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, said it was too soon to review the film credits.

"It was just two years ago that the Legislature made a commitment to diversify our economy and to grow a new industry with the extension of the Alaska film and television tax incentives," he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A special legislative committee met for hours Tuesday, trying to hash out education funding, but by late in the evening committee members appeared as far as ever from an agreement.

And some positions, both for and against more money for schools, seemed to be hardening.

Some Republican legislators tried to blame schools themselves for their funding shortfalls, and talked of the needs for radical changes to the state's schools and how they are funded.

"I think we and the public feel that we are not getting the value we want out of our schools," said Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, chairing the conference committee trying to bridge the gap between House and Senate versions of the House Bill 278, this year's omnibus education bill...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Acting as if Alaska voters hadn't limited their sessions to 90 days, legislators worked through the 2014 session's 91st day Monday, and made plans for a 92nd day on Tuesday.

The key legislation preventing conclusion of the session involves school funding, as debate continues on House Bill 278. That's the omnibus education bill that's been the centerpiece to what Gov. Parnell dubbed the "education session" in his State of the State speech in January.

Also hanging in the balance is the state's capital budget, which will incorporate the more than $100 million cost of the eventual education funding package...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Legislature reached the end of its 90-day session Sunday with its work on top priorities, including education funding, unfinished.

An extra 91st day was enough to push two ballot measures, one aimed at raising the minimum wage and the other hoping to legalize marijuana from the August primary election ballot to the November general election ballot. Lawmakers denied that was the intent of the extended session.

Legislators spent Easter Sunday working at a lackluster pace and were nowhere near completing their work on key bills when the official end of the 90-day session came and went at midnight...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A retirement funding package that legislators rushed to pass in the last two days of the legislation session adds $3 billion to retirement trust funds, but shifts billions in costs from the state to municipalities, as well as rolling back one of the reforms intended to prevent future retirement funding crises...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Legislators late Saturday approved spending $3 billion to pay down retirement debt, but said they want to slow future payments to retain more money to spend in those years.

Senators who passed House Bill 385 by a 20-0 vote praised themselves for taking action to strengthen the underfunded retirement system for teachers and public employees. "Today we shore that system up by this infusion of cash," said Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks.

The Senate's action was taken on the second-to-last day of a 90-day legislative session, scheduled to end Sunday. It now needs agreement to the changes from the House of Representatives...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Facing public criticism over a stingy education budget, the Senate Finance Committee Saturday added millions to its version of Gov. Sean Parnell's education bill before sending it to the Senate floor for action Sunday.

Reversing course from a proposal made Friday, the committee said that funding for additional programs -- including benefits for home-schooled children, charter schools and residential schools -- would be on top of an extra $100 million going to schools this year.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, said he hopes the new money will allay concerns that legislators aren't funding schools sufficiently...

Pat Forgey

In the last days of the Legislature, most bills are either dead by rule or effectively dead, but the last few dozen bills in play can be tracked on BASIS , the Legislature's online bill tracking system. Look for the "Daily Floor Sessions Schedules," and keep checking back; they're updated regularly.

But most of the actual work on bills happens in the each body's finance committee. Those committees effectively act as executive committees, handling all the bills involving money and the most other important legislation...

Pat Forgey

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