The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to give the Alaska Marine Highway System Fund $1,438,500 - about half of the $2.8 million it sought - to compensate for increases in fuel costs.
It was part of a package of fast-track appropriations the committee approved for state agencies and other projects, but a party-line vote axed an amendment to provide quick money for the Redistricting Board. The package now will go to other committees for review.
Bob Doll, Southeast region director for the Department of Transportation, said with that funding level the ferry system would have to reduce operations, which means fewer ferries running. He said people who have booked spots on ferries this summer would have to reschedule.
"We will have to attempt, and I emphasize attempt, to book them on another ferry," Doll said. "Some travelers are going to be disappointed."
Partisanship came into play in the Finance Committee when an amendment providing $474,000 to the Redistricting Board was proposed by Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat.
The redistricting plan, which defines legislative voting districts, was rejected last week by the Alaska Supreme Court. The plan would have pitted 20 Republicans against one another and was challenged by the Republican Party and eight cities and boroughs.
The Redistricting Board is made up of five members: two were chosen by Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, one each by the Republican-led House and Senate, and one by the state Supreme Court's chief justice, Dana Fabe, who was appointed by Knowles.
Finance Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican, said the board spent over $500,000 in legal fees defending the plan in court and added that two members of the board recommended that additional funding be denied.
"Because of (the board's) reckless, politically biased, partisan behavior, we now are probably going to liable for over $1 million in public-interest litigant fees from all the groups who sued and won in getting this bill overturned," Donley said.
Donley preferred using existing funds to finance the task of forging a new redistricting plan and added that the bill might include an additional appropriation by the time it reaches the Senate floor but at a "much lower level."
He said funding for travel and additional staffing is necessary, but he didn't agree to the amount requested in Hoffman's proposal. He also said lawmakers are exploring ways to make expenditures by the Redistricting Board dependent on four of the five members, instead of a just a majority.
Republicans on the Finance Committee maintained that private interests and corporations spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" devising the original redistricting plan. Sen. Jerry Ward, an Anchorage Republican, called for public disclosure of the parties involved in forming the plan and how much was spent.
"I think public disclosure of things would clear up a lot of where exactly problems lie in the system, so we can make corrective changes," Ward said.
Hoffman reminded the committee that the Legislature voted in a previous session to restructure the way board members are selected and that the current governing body should not try to "change the rules" because of objections to the plan.
"It was stated in there that a majority of the people on that board decide on the plan," Hoffman said. "When we don't like the outcome, we want to go and change it? What kind of public process is that?"
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