ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Multiple bills have been introduced during this year's legislative session, aimed at altering the current rules and regulations surrounding the Alaska Marine Highway System.
House Bill 249, authored by Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak, would establish a public corporation to oversee the operations of the ferry system. Stutes believes this could shield the program from inconstancy and instability caused by administrative turnover.
"There's no continuity. There's no stability and it creates termendous problems," she told KTUU.
Last week, Stutes and her colleagues on the DOT budget subcommittee also proposed an amendment to the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities budget, allocating more than $18-million towards getting more ferries back into operation. Several vessels from the state's fleet remain offline, due to cuts in service routes and mechanical problems. That money now needs to be approved in the House Finance Committee, on the House floor, in the Senate and by the Governor.
"Pursuing the public/private partnership, getting information on it and hearing from stakeholders and user groups- does not address the immediate urgency of getting that system up and running," Stutes said. "The intent is to give everybody some service, even if it is the minimal amount they can get by one."
Last year, Governor Mike Dunleavy ordered an independent review into whether or not privatization would be a feasible option for the state's ferry system. When the report was released last month, Northern Economics recommended running the system through multiple public corporations. The governor is expected to announce the names of nine appointees to a newly established AMHS Reshaping Work Group soon.
Stutes says it is unlikely that a new management system will be put into place by the end of the session, but she's optimistic that there might at least be a path forward by then.
"Right now, I think the focus is get to the ferries running and move forward from there," she said.
A separate piece of legislation, House Bill 253, would block DOT from selling any vessel belonging to the AMHS without first getting legislative approval. That bill was authored by Sitka Representative Johnathan Kreiss-Tomkins.
In a statement released by the Alaska House Majority, Kreiss-Tomkins said: “Many Alaskans share my concern that the Dunleavy Administration may dismantle the ferry system to the point that, like Humpty Dumpty, it cannot be put back together again. This legislation is co-sponsored by coastal legislators from across the state and is something of a mayday to help save our marine highway.”
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