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Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- For years, Alaska leaders have not dealt with the state's growing retirement debts, making minimum payments in years of oil-fueled surplus so they could have more money available for more popular programs.

This year, the will to deal with that unfunded liability may be there, but the 2014 legislative session is rapidly drawing to a close.

This year, Gov. Sean Parnell offered support to the call for action by the Alaska Retirement Management Board. He proposed $2 billion in addition to the required $1 billion minimum payment, what's being called a "$3 billion cash infusion."...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Siding with Gov. Sean Parnell's desire for oil industry expertise to help get Alaska a natural gas pipeline, the Alaska Legislature has approved Texas' Richard Rabinow to the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.

The largely party-line vote came with majority Republicans backing the Republican governor and defending Rabinow. Parnell had appointed the Houston oil and gas executive to the AGDC board last September, despite a state law limiting such appointments to Alaska residents.

But Thursday's confirmation vote by 43-17 in a joint session of the Alaska Legislature came after the Legislature earlier this week passed legislation allowing out-of-state appointments to the AGDC, and backdating the approval to Parnell's September appointment...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Legislature is moving to make legal Gov. Sean Parnell's September appointment of a Texan to the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation who has served in violation of the law since then.

But critics are saying no Texan is needed to oversee Alaska's gas pipeline efforts, and that Alaskans can and should be doing that themselves...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- After years of cuts to Alaska's schools, education advocates say they're seeing signs of hope they haven't seen in years.

After fending off attempts in the State House to make radical changes to Gov. Sean Parnell's omnibus education bill, advocates say they're finding new optimism in the more education-friendly Senate.

Parnell's House Bill 278 includes multiple educations reforms, from allowing testing out of classes to elimination of the High School Graduation Qualification Exam. But the "big enchilada" in the closely-watched bill is its funding provisions, especially to the base student allocation said Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, co-chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The Alaska Senate approved the Knik Arm Crossing project Saturday after deciding that instead of the scientific traffic projections that they'd previously said were necessary, they'd instead base the billion-dollar decision on an anecdote.

Traffic projections for the bridge over Knik Arm are unusually important for an Alaska transportation project, because the project would be largely financed through tolls.

That heavy reliance on toll-revenue funding makes the bridge project unusual, if not unique, among Alaska projects. Those tolls were supposed to attract a private developer that could see the bridge built at no cost to the state, but such a developer never materialized...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Legislators struggling to find ways to pay off the $12 billion in unfunded pension liability threatening to overwhelm state budgets for years to come are trying to finger who is responsible and where the blame lies.

Huge stock market declines, devastating actuarial errors, and funding decisions of more than a decade ago all played a role. But those in current state leadership posts watched in recent years while unfunded liability grew to is current size, failing to take action even after awareness of the shortfall grew...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Scrambling to legalize the appointment of a Texan to an Alaska oil and gas board after the fact, a legislative committee on Tuesday made the bill to do so retroactive.

Richard Rabinow, a former Exxon Pipeline Co. executive, was appointed to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board of directors in September. That appointment came despite a state law restricting appointments to that and most other state boards to Alaska residents.

But House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said that not making the country's top pipeline experts eligible for appointment to such an important board was simply a technical oversight...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- After hours of debate, Alaska state representatives grudgingly voted for more money for Alaska schools, but also issued dire warnings about the future.

In a session that ended Monday after midnight, the Alaska House voted 29-11 to pass House Bill 278, Gov. Sean Parnell's omnibus education bill. But now it bears only a passing resemblance to the bill he proposed at the session's start, when he dubbed 2014 the "education session.”

But the bill could have been even more radical -- before passage, the full House stripped two last-minute additions from the House Finance Committee out of the bill -- but other controversial provisions remain...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- The critics are calling it "voucher-lite," an attempt to send state money to private and religious schools that’s now part of Gov. Sean Parnell's education bill, which includes additional school funding.

Parnell supports a constitutional amendment allowing public money to go to non-public schools, including religious schools. Supporters call that school "choice," while opponents call those school "vouchers."...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Legislators have heard about school funding concerns and likely budget cuts from Anchorage and other large school districts and have added new provisions to Gov. Sean Parnell's omnibus education bill to help the largest of those districts.

That extra help for the big districts amounts to about $13.5 million, and it is only fair, say the legislators who crafted the bill. The big cities were where the complaints they heard were coming from, they said.

"That's where we've heard most of the debate, that's where the rallies have been, that's where the focus has been," said Rep. Bill Stoltze, a Republican who represents Chugiak, in the Anchorage School District...

Pat Forgey