Dunleavy vetoes ferry funding added by the Legislature in the wake of cuts

Kennicott at Hubbard Glacier. (Photo by Geraldine Young, Alaska DOT&PF)

The Legislature’s attempt to add funding to the Alaska Marine Highway System 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.

In a fiscal note, the governor’s office called the budget item “premature” ahead of a $250,000 study commissioned to reshape the system.

“I don’t know how it could be premature. We could see that these areas were going to be without needed services,” said Rep. Dan Ortiz, a Ketchikan independent.

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,” Ortiz 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.”

draft winter schedule released last month proposes no ships on Prince William Sound between October and May.

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 working to finalize 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 statement said. “The 31% budget reduction from previous fiscal years will limit the adjustments that can be made to the schedule.”

The fiscal note accompanying the line-item veto notes that the ferry study is due in mid-October.