Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has signed on with 337 other U.S.mayors to back goals of the Paris accord on global emissions reduction and climate change, a spokeswoman for the mayor said. The initiative was organized through the U.S. Conference of Mayors and ratified at the group’s meeting in Miami Beach June 1.

“Anchorage maintains our commitment and responsibility to adapt to and mitigate climate change,” Berkowitz said in a statement. “Alaskans know how critical good stewardship is for our economy, our climate, and our security.”

“The Municipality of Anchorage stands with business leaders and other mayors from across the country in protecting our future,” Berkowitz said.

The Anchorage’s mayor’s stance is in contrast with that of Gov. Bill Walker, who has not said he would back the goals of the Paris agreement although he is concerned with climate change impacts in Alaska.

Walker is courting President Donald Trump’s support for major infrastructure projects in Alaska, particularly federal funding for a natural gas pipeline, a project Walker strongly supports. President Donald Trump has announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change goals.

Trump’s action is not widely supported in the U.S., however. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu Landrieu, president of the U.S. mayor’s conference, said “There’s near unanimity in this conference that climate change is real and that humans contribute to it.”

“There may be a little bit of a disagreement about how actually to deal with it, but if the federal government refuses to act or is just paralyzed, the cities

themselves, through their mayors, are going to create a new national policy

by the accumulation of our individual efforts.”

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Uber, newly-approved by the Legislature and Gov. Bill Walker to operate in Alaska, has told Juneau officials that it will not be paying sales tax for ride services. Uber told the city the drivers have responsibility to pay sales tax but city officials said that is impractical because money is actually transferred to Uber directly. If this holds up it will leave legislators who championed the company looking a little red-faced. Sen. Mia Costello made a big point of Uber’s sales tax revenue contribution in her Senate floor speech in favor of the bill. Traditional taxicabs do pay sales taxes in Juneau, to the tune of about $100,000 last year.

The Uber legislation was pushed in the Senate by Costello and Sen. Anna MacKinnon, cochair of the Senate Finance Committee. Its prime sponsor in the House was Rep. Adam Wool of Fairbanks. Municipalities fought the legislation hard because of weak language in the bill (and now the law) on regulation of the ride-sharing service.

Despite all the gloom and doom overall the state is not in bad shape financially. We cite figures from the June 20 Standard & Poor’s report, which were supplied by the state administration and are current, but the best estimate for the Constitutional Budget Reserve fund balance as of July 1 is $4.3 million; as of May 31, the Permanent Fund’s Earnings Reserve was $12.5 billion.

In terms of the projected FY 2018 deficit, the current estimate for the draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve is $2.4 billion to $2.6 billion, according to information from House Finance co-chair Rep. Paul Seaton’s office. The Permanent Fund Dividend appropriation of approximately $700 million is being made from the Fund’s Earnings Reserve (this is actually standard practice). Looked at this way, the deficit for government operations is $2.4 billion to $2.6 billion. If we add the PFD appropriation, which is not a government operation, the total FY 2018 deficit appears to be $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion. Read the rest of this entry »

The budget Conference Committee wrapped up work early Thursday afternoon and sent the compromise version of HB 57 to the House and Senate for consideration. There were no huge cuts in spending overall although some institutions, like the University of Alaska, will be significantly affected. The Alaska House of Representatives passed the budget by a vote of 31-8. The Alaska Senate passed the bill by a vote of 16-1. The bill will now be sent to the governor for approval.

(Note: We will do a deeper analysis in our private Legislative Digest reports)

In the end, not much was cut in many parts of the budget. The compromise budget totals $4.1 billion in Unrestricted General Fund (UGF) spending and sets this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend at $1,100. The K-12 Base Student Allocation (BSA) will be fully funded at $1.2 billion, the same level of funding as the current year.

This reverses the $69 million cut to education advanced by the Alaska Senate. Budget conferees did agree on an $8 million cut to the University’s $325 million UGF funding, bringing the university to $317 million. The $6 million cut to Pioneer Homes put forward by the Senate Majority was also reversed. In total, the compromise budget cuts $128.7 million from FY 2018 agency and statewide operations compared to the FY 2017 budget, according to figures provided by the House Majority.

Governor Bill Walker also added oil tax credits to the Legislature’s special session agenda. The governor amended the special session call with the oil and gas tax credit reform bill, HB 111. Legislators indicated in the conference committee their intent to and oil and gas tax credit payments this year, as is provided for in HB 111.

“That’s why I am amending the call so legislators can complete work on House Bill 111. We must immediately address the subsidies we can no longer afford. It is the next critical component of a much needed compromise fiscal plan, and it must be addressed this year. “When we have reduced PFDs for Alaskans, we cannot continue to give out millions of dollars in subsidies to oil companies,” the governor said.

The conference committee capped oil and gas tax credit payments at $57 million, which is lower than the amount allowed by statute (in the $70 million range) and expressed legislative intent that no tax credit sales to third party buyers be allowed after the end of this calendar year, with the same applying to purchases by the state of tax credits from explorers. The cessation of purchases and transfers were sought in HB 111, the oil and gas tax bill that was hung up as the regular session adjourned. The Senate had also pushed for a far larger paydown of tax credit liability but the conference committee opted for a lower payment amount.

The state has a current liability of about $700 million on oil tax credits and it is expected to grow to about $1 billion over the next year due to work underway in 2016 and 2017.


The House-Senate budget conference committee rolled through several agencies late Thursday afternoon including the Dept. of Health and Social Services and the University of Alaska. The UA budget wound up at $317 million in undesignated general funds, down from $325 in the current budget. The House had recommended status quo for the university as had the governor. A Senate Finance subcommittee initially recommended $312 million but the full Senate Finance committee dropped it to $302 million, although that number was probably for negotation.

The committee takes up education, the most devisive remaining issue, Thursday morning. At this rate the committee made conclude its work Thursday, setting the stage for possible adjournment. Legislators are likely to be called back later  in the summer to work on a revenue package

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