AKLEG Day 57: Record-high testimony turns out to keep ferry system afloat

(Photo by Gillfoto/Wikimedia Commons)

The 57th day of the Alaska Legislative session was all about the ferry system.

A ferry-load of testimony

Nearly 300 people participated in the House Transportation Committee’s public hearing on the Alaska Marine Highway System Tuesday night because, as it turns out, eliminating the service that serves as the road for dozens of communities isn’t particularly popular.

Testimony came in from nearly every corner of the state and opposed the cuts—and privatization efforts—proposed under Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s budget. Much of it argued that the current problems with the ferry system such as declining ridership were borne out of cuts, which have required higher rates, already handed down to the service.

Plenty of ire was also targeted at comments Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin made at the release of the budget. There, she explained plans to privatize the system because the marine highway’s cost per mile ($4.58) simply wasn’t competitive with land-based roads (two cents per mile).

Dennis Watson, general manager of the Interisland Ferry Authority, which operates a ferry between Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan, told the committee otherwise. “IFA is going to go down if the marine highway system goes down,” he said, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Under the current Dunleavy budget, service would end by October with a plan to study the privatization of the ferry system due by August (which would either lead to a privatization of the system or simply selling off its assets). If neither of those come to fruition, the ferries would be tied up and many communities would be without regular ferry service (relying on private barges or small planes for access).

The capital budget currently contains $37.5 million for selling off ferries and terminals, which the Senate Finance Committee reviewed on Tuesday. Sen. Bert Stedman, the Sitka Republican who’s been an ardent defender of his “beloved marine highway,” noted that there will be changes to the marine highway system, but said he expects it to continue.

“I don’t want you to get the impression that we’ll be coming forward with the operating budget with no changes for the marine highway, there will be changes,” he said. “I would suggest you take a look at these with a jaundiced eye and move slow. We ensure that we have a transportation system not only in the rail belt, but in coastal Alaska as we go forward.”

Before the House Transportation Committee opened its public testimony, it heard three proposals to keep ferry service open. The Anchorage Daily News has this summary:

Each scenario offers service past Oct. 1, but each sacrifices something.

In the first scenario, which cuts about $50 million from the current budget, the state would end service to the Southeast towns of Angoon, Tenakee and Pelican, and service to the Canadian port of Prince Rupert would end after Sept. 30.

In the second scenario, the three dropped Southeast towns would receive service, but there would be a $45 million budget cut and Prince Rupert service would end.

In the third scenario, the state would provide $1 of subsidy for every dollar taken in farebox revenue, and the ferry system would maximize its profitable runs.

That would result in a cut of $40 million and an end to Prince Rupert service, but all Alaska ports would be served.

In the second and third scenarios, sailings are cut by 10 percent.

In the first scenario, service is cut by about 17 percent.

The difference between tribal corporations and tribal non-profits

The House Tribal Affairs Committee continues to hold hearings that prove its formation this year was long, long overdue. The committee heard from former Lt. Gov. Val Davidson about compacts and contracts between tribes and state and federal governments, noting both the pitfalls and opportunities in them.

She closed out the meeting with an important myth-busting effort targeted at the confusion surrounding the differences between Alaska Native corporations (think Doyon Limited) and non-profits (think Tanana Chiefs Conference).

“There’s still a lot of confusion about what’s the role of ANCSA regional corporations, what’s the role of ANCSA village corporations … and how do they relate to tribes?” she said. “The regional corporations and the village corporations were really designed by Congress as a for-profit business mechanism and their function is not about providing social services or providing other kinds of services to the community.”

The corporations weren’t created to provide health care or social services to their regions, even though they often help, and she said it’s inappropriate to expect them to.

“They often will do that, but when I worked in other jobs I would get questions like this, ‘Well, we need resources to provide health services, well can’t the regional corporation do that? Can’t the village corporation provide that?’ My response was often, those are two different functions one is a for-profit that’s been designed to do that and the other is a social services organization that’s a non-profit,” she said. “Just as we wouldn’t ask Carr’s or Fred Meyer or Safeway to pay for the health care costs or the social services costs of a community, we should not necessarily ask the for-profit companies in the ANCSA corporation realm to be able to do that because they serve entirely different functions.”

Senator asks for opposition

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, took to Facebook on Tuesday to call for public opposition to the appointment of Trevor Shaw to the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Shaw was in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, where he was grilled on his handling of multiple sexual assaults committed by a former teacher (and family friend). There, Sen. Peter Micciche wondered “how many victims or how many additional young people were victimized because the district and the school board essentially ignored the repeated occurrences that happened in seven different incidents.”

Here’s what Olson had to say:

There is a governor’s appointee to the Commission on Judicial Conduct that I believe is ill suited for the position. I am asking you to contact your legislator and ask them to vote NO on the confirmation of Trevor Shaw of Ketchikan.

There are allegations that Mr. Shaw used his position on the Ketchikan School Board to protect a now convicted Child Sexual Abuser. Mr. Shaw was on the board when 6 formal complaints were made against Mr. Shaw’s childhood pastor whom he had a close relationship with. I question whether Trevor Shaw willfully ignored the accusations against his friend.

My colleagues in the Senate are asking the tough questions of Mr. Shaw and he has not been forthcoming in his answers. Mr. Shaw has presented himself as the victim. In the comments I have linked some articles that have explored the allegations against Mr. Shaw further.

With the high workload here in Juneau not every legislator is aware of the concerning nature of Mr. Shaw. I am asking you to contact your legislator and ask them to vote NO.

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