Gov. Mike Dunleavy has vetoed the $5 million the Legislature added back to the Alaska Marine Highway System in House Bill 2001.
The recent budget cuts resulted in a loss of $43 million to the AMHS budget, a 31% reduction in funding compared to previous years, stated a Department of Transportation news bulletin released Monday.
The bulletin also stated that recent refunds have reduced the AMHS budget by approximately $3 million.
The slashed budget means the ferry system could have to suspend service for part of the winter season according to a draft schedule released by AMHS.
The proposed winter schedule would suspend service to communities in Southwest Alaska from January through April, according to a press release issued by DOT on July 15.
Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), who introduced the amendment to add $5 million to the AMHS, told the Kodiak Daily Mirror she is “horribly disappointed” that that money was vetoed.
“Our rural communities are dependent on (AMHS), and to think that it’s not going to exist, it’s just outrageous to me,” Stutes said.
Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) spoke with KDM Tuesday and said he thought the amendment would have been a reasonable solution that would have decreased the length of ferry service gaps.
It was “not an enormous amount of money but enough to allow the department to stop the heartache it would cause to our communities,” he said. “Unfortunately (Dunleavy) chose to veto those monies.”
Stutes said the administration has put out a request for proposals for an assessment of the AMHS, a process that has been done before, she said.
“It’s amazing to me that they are spending as many dollars as they are on a new assessment of the Alaska Marine Highway System, where they are just repeating everything that’s already been done,” Stutes said.
The study should be done by Oct. 15, she added.
Stutes said she has been working with the Department of Transportation for a solution.
Stevens said he and Stutes “met with the department, and we talked to them about what their needs were to alleviate some of that pressure on Cordova and Kodiak.”
The governor’s cuts originally would have meant that Cordova would lose ferry service for six months, he said.
“Now, what I’m hoping is the Department of Transportation and the marine highway under that will look very carefully at their budget and look for things they can do, move things around, juggle services here and juggle services there to not close down,” Stevens said.
The winter schedule has not been decided yet, but according to the latest DOT news release, booking for winter travel should be available by the third week of September.