The march through understanding the sweeping impacts of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s budget continued on Wednesday with much of the attention paid to the Alaska Marine Highway System. The Legislature also heard from Chief Justice Joel Bolger, who called for increased cybersecurity funding.
Today is day 38.
Ferry service to end on Oct. 1
Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s budget would leave coastal communities without ferry service from Oct. 1 to at least the beginning of the next fiscal year—July 1, 2020—the Senate Finance Committee learned on Wednesday after Sen. Mike Shower apparently did some digging. The change had been discussed in a memo earlier in the month, according to the report by the Anchorage Daily News, but Wednesday appeared to be the first time it was publicly acknowledged.
“If you shut down the ferry operations, you’re potentially, I hate to say it, you’re strangling those communities because they may not make it through the winter, if the airports can’t support them, and I my guess is they can’t,” Shower said during the committee, according to KTUU.
There would be 35 communities that would be left without the ferry system access, meaning communities would have to rely on alternative methods of travel like a seaplane, as would be the case for Angoon.
“Angoon right now only has a seaplane base for air transport. With that, we rely on our ferry service for everything,” Joshua Bowen, mayor of the Admiralty Island town of Angoon, told the ADN. “If the ferry gets cut, this winter is going to be brutal.”
Coastal legislators like Sen. Bert “My Beloved Marine Highway” Stedman are telling communities to not panic at the news, reminding them that the budget still has to go through the Legislature (to be met with Dunleavy’s line item veto power).
The Department of Transportation is beginning the process of looking into alternatives—like privatization—of the ferry system with a report due on Aug. 1, but the AKLedger points out there’s problems—like the lack of an RFP—with the study and the general backing for the concept in general.
“Why the rush?” asked Senate Finance Co-chair Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage).
“Why are you cutting tens of millions of dollars in one year, a short period of time, versus over the course of a couple years, particularly to allow this consultant to finish his or her work? Why are we just game over as of the end of October?”
It’s yet another meeting where legislators’ requests for back up on any particular cuts are being met with shrugs or being told that someone else probably has the answer.
The House Finance Committee will hold its first official meeting today, day 38 of the session, and it’ll be headed by a team we would have never guessed would come together. It’ll be co-chaired by Reps. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and Neal Foster, D-Nome, with Anchorage Republican Rep. Jennifer Johnston serving as vice chair.
The crew will be hearing from Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin, who’s coming off widely panned performance in front of the Senate Finance Committee. It’ll definitely be worth tuning in at 1:30 p.m.
State of the Judiciary
Opening courts on Friday was a footnote in Chief Justice Joel Bolger’s address to the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday. The courts shut things down on Friday afternoons in response to budget cuts, but Dunleavy pledged to reopen them as part of his tough-on-crime platform.
Instead, it was cybersecurity that dominated Bolger’s speech to the Legislature. He pointed to a recent case where a breach shut down the Nome courthouse earlier this year.
“Recently, the computers in the Nome courthouse were unable to operate for several days. This is due to the same type of computer virus that infected the Mat-Su Borough last year,” he said.
He’s asking for more money to be able to upgrade the security of the court system. He’s also making a request to upgrade two District Court judges to Superior Court judges in order for them to handle a wider range of cases. The judges are located in Homer and Valdez.
What we’re reading
- The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation endorsed Dunleavy’s election, but it might be having second thoughts after he’s proposed seizing some $372 million in oil and gas property taxes collected by the North Slope Borough. The generally tight-lipped organization released a scathing takedown of the proposal, via Alaska’s Energy Desk.
- U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has her concerns about the state missing out on federal dollars by cutting matching funds. Murkowski: Cutting state funds makes it more difficult to unlock federal cash, via ADN.