Alaska Marine Highway System wary of possible future cuts

The Alaska Marine Highway System made it through one step in the legislative budget process without further cuts. But those could come later.

Rep. Sam Kito lll addresses the Alaska House of Representatives on April 7, 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)
Rep. Sam Kito III addresses the Alaska House of Representatives in 2014. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The House Finance Subcommittee on the state Department of Transportation budget did remove $2 million in general funds. That’s the pot of money that pays for most state operations.

But the committee replaced it with the same amount from a separate fund made up of earnings from ferry tickets, sales and other revenue.

Juneau Democratic Rep. Sam Kito III is one of the panel’s seven members. He said the change should prevent deeper service cuts on top of those made by the governor.

“But it’s not a sustainable source in the long term,” Kito said. “So the department is going to need to figure out how to try and generate revenue as opposed to relying on the system fund for that support.

Ferry officials have said they’re streamlining operations to reduce the impacts of cuts.

The governor’s budget, released in December, included a little more than $140 million from the general fund for the fiscal year starting in July. That’s a $5 million cut for the ferry system. It’s about 8 percent lower than the current budget year and about 11 percent less than the previous one.


The House Finance Transportation Subcommittee considered, but rejected, further ferry cuts during a Thursday meeting.

The committee did reduce the budget for Transportation Department vehicle replacement by 10 percent. The statewide cut totals $1.3 million.

Kito says that could affect some very basic services.

“I am concerned about what that’s going to mean for snowplowing, especially places like the Haines Highway, some places around Juneau and the Skagway Klondike Highway,” said Kito.

The budget could undergo further changes in the full Finance Committee, as well as on the House floor. It will follow a similar process in the state Senate.

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Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska - Juneau
Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.