The legislature’s attempt to add funding to the Alaska Marine Highway System and a number of blocked programs has been blocked.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy used his line item veto power to eliminate $5 million added by lawmakers in the wake of a $43 million cut that will mean long gaps in service.
“I don’t know how it could be premature. We could see that these areas were going to be without needed services,” Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) told CoastAlaska.
He says he’s heard from coastal residents who can’t get on a plane and are facing as long as seven months with no ferries.
“They’re cut off,” he said Monday. “They don’t have access to medical care if they’re not allowed to fly because now the marine highway is not there for them.”
Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin predicted that’s going to hurt the state’s economy by cutting off commerce between communities.
“It’s pretty simple economics: we either do business in the state and have a ferry system and a (marine) highway we can use or we have to look for alternatives,” Koplin said Monday. “If we don’t have a ferry and a way to get in out of the community and conduct our business — it’s going to hurt.”
Just hours after the governor’s announcement, the Alaska Department of Transportation released a statement saying it was finalizing its winter ferry schedule.
“As the winter schedule is finalized, please keep in mind that AMHS funding for the fiscal year 2020 has been reduced by $43 million and the winter schedule is fiscally constrained,” the agency said. “The 31 percent budget reduction from previous fiscal years will limit the adjustments that can be made to the schedule.”
Also eliminated from the budget:
- $3.4 million cruise ship passenger head tax revenue destined for onboard cruise ship inspectors. The Dunleavy administration has argued the Ocean Rangers program is burdensome on the cruise industry.
- $250,000 — the state’s entire contribution — for the Alaska Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.
- The vetoes also cut tens of thousands of transportation dollars earmarked for rural airport maintenance across the state.
In a recorded video address accompanying the cuts, the governor didn’t address the vetoes. The fiscal note accompanying the line item veto notes that the ferry study is due in mid-October.