Articles written by James Brooks

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  • EPA threatens to step in if Alaska does not update its water pollution limit

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Jun 13, 2024

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is prodding the state of Alaska over its failure to update water pollution rules. Last Thursday, the EPA issued a formal determination that the state should update pollution limits that are based in part on the amount of fish consumed by state residents. Under federal law, those limits are supposed to be reviewed every three years, but Alaska hasn’t updated its limits since 2003. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation has been working since 2013 on an updated list of water quality s... Full story

  • Legislature adjourns after passing budget with $1,655 PFD and one-time $680 per-student school funding boost


    The 33rd Alaska State Legislature came to a shuddering but active end early Thursday morning as lawmakers passed the state’s annual budget and a series of high-profile bills addressing crime, climate change, the looming Cook Inlet energy crunch, and problems with the state’s correspondence education programs. “I think it was a great session,” said Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla. “We’ve taken care of energy … we were able to take care of the correspondence folks. And we had a great crime bill that we passed. So I think it was... Full story

  • Alaska House members propose constitutional amendment to allow public money for private schools

    James Brooks|Apr 25, 2024

    After a court ruling that overturned a key part of Alaska’s education correspondence programs, members of the state Legislature have proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow public money to go to private and religious schools. House Joint Resolution 28 is scheduled for hearings Wednesday and Friday next week in the House Judiciary Committee. If approved by two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate and voters this fall, HJR 28 would remove the part of Article VII, Section 1, that says, “no money shall be paid from public fun... Full story

  • Alaska judge strikes down state's cash payments to families using correspondence school programs

    James Brooks and Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Apr 18, 2024

    An Anchorage Superior Court judge on Friday struck down an Alaska law that allows the state to distribute cash payments to the parents of homeschooled students on the grounds that it violates constitutional prohibitions against spending state money on private education. “This court finds that there is no workable way to construe the statutes to allow only constitutional spending,” wrote Judge Adolf Zeman, concluding that the relevant laws “must be struck down in their entirety.” The decisio... Full story

  • Financial estimates being compiled Tuesday indicate there may not be enough revenue to cover the Legislature's draft spending plan

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Apr 11, 2024

    As the Alaska House of Representatives opened debate on the state operating budget Tuesday, financial experts away from the House floor were calculating that the draft spending plan under discussion may not be affordable. The operating budget, which will pay for state services for 12 months starting July 1, clocks in at $6 billion, excluding federally funded and fee-funded programs. The state’s capital budget, which covers construction and renovation projects, is expected to be another $550 million. Other legislation, labor contracts under n... Full story

  • Alaska House finance committee approves $7.5 million more for child care facilities

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Apr 4, 2024

    Members of the Alaska House Finance Committee revised their latest budget draft Tuesday to include more money for child care and eliminate funding for an experimental reading institute operated by the state. The committee spent most of the day Tuesday debating amendments to the state’s operating budget, an $11.3 billion document that pays for state services and Permanent Fund dividends during the 12 months that begin July 1. The committee is expected to consider additional amendments through Wednesday at least, and the budget would then a...

  • New forecast bumps Alaska oil price estimates slightly

    James Brooks|Mar 14, 2024

    A new state revenue forecast that includes modestly higher oil prices promises to give Alaskans a slightly larger Permanent Fund dividend and the Alaska Legislature some additional breathing room as lawmakers craft a new state budget. The forecast, released Wednesday by the Alaska Department of Revenue, updates a fall estimate and predicts that the state of Alaska will collect $140 million more in revenue than previously expected during the 12 months that begin July 1. That will help legislators as they write a budget bill that must be passed a... Full story

  • Legislative budgeters say Dunleavy's proposed 2024 Permanent Fund dividend is a no-go

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Mar 14, 2024

    Leading Alaska legislators said last week that there’s little appetite for spending from savings to pay a super-sized Permanent Fund dividend this year, likely killing a proposal from Gov. Mike Dunleavy. In December, the governor proposed spending almost $2.3 billion on a dividend of roughly $3,500 per recipient under a formula in state law. That would result in a $1 billion deficit and require spending from the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve, but as a draft budget takes shape in the House, top members of both the House and Senate sai...

  • Alaska newspaper publishers worry about bill ending some public notice requirements

    James Brooks|Mar 14, 2024

    The Alaska Senate voted without dissent Monday to allow the Department of Natural Resources to stop publishing some public notices in local newspapers. Senators approved Senate Bill 68 by a 17-0 vote. It now advances to the House for consideration. Sens. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel; Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; and Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, were excused absent. Before the final vote, newspaper publishers unsuccessfully asked legislators to reconsider their plans. Allowing the state to control its public notice process poses transparency risks, they...

  • Dunleavy threatens to veto public education funding bill unless legislators act on his priorities

    Claire Stremple and James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 29, 2024

    Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued an ultimatum to state legislators on Tuesday, saying he will veto a multipart education funding bill unless lawmakers pass separate legislation that contains his education priorities. Speaking from his office in Anchorage, the governor said lawmakers have two weeks to reconsider teacher bonuses and changes to the way charter schools are approved, two items that were voted down during the debates over Senate Bill 140, the education bill. If they don’t act, Dunleavy said he will veto SB 140, killing a permanent f... Full story

  • Permanent Fund leaders propose to borrow up to $4 billion for investments

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 22, 2024

    The leaders of the $76 billion Alaska Permanent Fund voted unanimously on Friday to adopt a strategic plan that calls for borrowing up to $4 billion in order to increase the amount of money available for investments. Friday’s vote has limited effect: The borrowing could take place only if the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy change state law to allow it. “It’ll start out as a legislative effort, then it would take a bill,” said Paulyn Swanson, communications director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., which manages the fund. The Ala... Full story

  • Alaska Volcano Observatory fully activates monitoring network over Sitka's rumbling mountain Seismic activity at Mount Edgecumbe has declined since a 2022 swarm of earthquakes, but a risk remains

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 15, 2024

    Sitka's Mount Edgecumbe volcano is wired. On Jan. 26, the Alaska Volcano Observatory announced the completion of a new instrument network intended to measure the activity of a volcano that could be awakening after a period of dormancy. The network includes four seismic stations and four sites that measure the way the ground is deforming as magma moves deep below the volcano. Since April 2022, the movement of that liquefied rock has caused hundreds of small earthquakes and raised concerns that... Full story

  • Gov. Dunleavy bans big new contracts with companies that boycott Israel

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 8, 2024

    Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a far-reaching administrative order on Monday that calls for public agencies to stop doing business with companies that support an economic boycott of Israel. The order makes Alaska the 38th state to take executive acts or pass legislation against boycotts intended to support Palestinians. Many of those actions are years old, but the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, a conflict that has killed more than 25,000 people since October, has intensified attention on a two-decade-old campaign that urges companies to boycott... Full story

  • Some skepticism as Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposes biggest use of executive power in decades

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 1, 2024

    In an unusual use of executive powers, Gov. Mike Dunleavy this month issued 12 executive orders abolishing state boards and granting new powers to the heads of state departments. The orders, which account for almost 10% of all executive orders issued since statehood and are equal to the number of all executive orders issued in the previous 20 years, will automatically take effect in March unless the Alaska Legislature specifically disapproves of them in a joint vote of the House and Senate. “We have never, in my experience, had 12 executive o... Full story

  • Despite educators' pleas for changes, school funding bill advances closer to Alaska House vote

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Jan 25, 2024

    The Alaska Legislature’s big education funding bill will reach the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives by next week, a leading Republican lawmaker said Monday. “We’re going to get it out. It’s not going to sit anywhere,” said Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage and chair of the House Rules Committee. On Saturday, members of Johnson’s committee heard more than seven hours of public testimony, mostly in favor of a large increase in Alaska’s funding for public schools. The committee declined to fulfill that request before advancing Sen... Full story

  • Alaska governor's staff deleted state agency's analysis of teacher pay

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Nov 2, 2023

    Staff for Gov. Mike Dunleavy quashed the publication of a new Department of Labor and Workforce Development report examining the competitiveness of teacher pay in Alaska, an act that current and former staff say could damage the apolitical reputation of the division that publishes state economic data. “This is data that typically is available to the public, and it’s never good to suppress good, objective data,” said Neal Fried, who retired in July after almost 45 years as an economist with the department. The report, which had been the cover... Full story

  • Alaska retirement board recommends closure of widely used plan after analysis finds flaws The 'managed accounts' program covers more than 10,000 of the 122,000-plus retirement accounts managed by the state

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Nov 2, 2023

    The board in charge of Alaska’s retirement system for public employees has recommended the closure of its commonly used managed accounts program after an independent review found workers were being charged high fees and receiving lower-than-expected returns. Managed accounts cover more than 10,000 of the 122,000-plus accounts in Alaska’s state employee retirement system and were the default option when the state switched from a pension-style retirement system to its current 401(k)-like approach in 2006. Many of those employees are only now dis... Full story

  • Alaska redistricting board agrees to pay $400,000 after losing Eagle River Senate lawsuit

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Oct 19, 2023

    The five-person board in charge of drawing Alaska’s legislative districts will pay $400,000 to settle financial claims brought by a group of East Anchorage plaintiffs who successfully challenged the boundaries of Eagle River’s state Senate district last year. In total, the state will have paid more than $600,000 to settle financial claims resulting from what the Alaska Supreme Court called “an unconstitutional political gerrymander.” Two smaller financial claims by other plaintiffs remain unresolved, but Friday’s decision by the redistric... Full story

  • $1,312 Permanent Fund Dividend arrives Oct. 5

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Sep 28, 2023

    This year's Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend will be $1,312. The Alaska Department of Revenue announced the figure last Thursday, two weeks before the annual cash payments will be delivered by direct deposit. PFD applications that were filed electronically, slated for direct deposit and have been deemed eligible will be paid out Oct. 5. The Department of Revenue will mail paper checks and begin direct deposits from paper applications later in the month. This year's PFD amount had been estimated... Full story

  • In new challenges to Tongass 'Roadless Rule,' pro-logging arguments have disappeared

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Sep 21, 2023

    The state of Alaska, a coalition of business groups and a pair of electric-power organizations have opened a new round in the generation-long fight over environmental protections in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. On Sept. 8, the state and two other groups of plaintiffs filed three separate federal lawsuits to challenge a Biden administration rule restricting new roads in parts of the forest, which is home to some of America’s last stands of old-growth trees. Each lawsuit asks U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason to ove...

  • Study: Alaska is failing to keep most Alaska-born residents

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Sep 21, 2023

    More than half of Alaskans born within the state have moved away, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. A state’s ability to retain native-born residents is an indicator of its economic health and attractiveness, and Alaska ranked near the bottom of the analysis conducted by University of North Florida professor Madeline Zavodny and two experts at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Using data from the Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey, they found Alaska retained 48....

  • Southeast wolves are not threatened or endangered, federal agency concludes

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Aug 24, 2023

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has again rejected a request to list Southeast Alaska's Alexander Archipelago wolves as endangered or threatened. The wolves, found in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, range among the region's large, old trees and are a subspecies of gray wolves. Putting the wolves on the Endangered Species List, either as endangered or threatened, likely would have resulted in new restrictions on development, logging and construction in the region, and the state of... Full story

  • Pete Buttigieg ends Alaska visit with emphasis on ferries

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Aug 17, 2023

    When U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's flight from Juneau to Haines was rained out on Wednesday, he changed plans and did what Alaskans have done for decades: He boarded a ferry. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, traveled with Buttigieg and said the last-minute switch in travel plans "was a typical Alaska jump ball." It was an appropriate capstone to Buttigieg's three-day Alaska visit: a trip intended to emphasize the benefits of the Biden administration's infrastructure law,... Full story

  • Alaska natural resources agency OKs bigger off-road vehicles on most state land

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Aug 10, 2023

    Alaskans can now use larger and heavier recreational off-road vehicles on most state land without a specialty permit, a move intended to accommodate the growth of side-by-side off-road vehicles. In late July, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources issued new general permissions that allow vehicles up to 80 inches wide and up to 2,500 pounds on land managed by the DNR Division of Mining, Land and Water. Old restrictions, based on the size and weight of a 6×6 Argo, allowed vehicles of up to 1,500 pounds, DNR staff said in an explanation of... Full story

  • Permanent Fund could run out of spendable money in three years

    James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Jul 20, 2023

    The spendable portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund is dwindling and could be exhausted entirely within three years, fund leaders were told during a regular quarterly meeting on Wednesday, July 12, in Anchorage. Deven Mitchell, CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., presented the results of limited modeling that estimates the fund’s performance over the next three years. Under the “low” scenario, the fund would be unable to pay for state services or dividends by summer 2026. The “mid” scenario calls for the spendable portion of the fund to b... Full story

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