Ferry cuts raise Juneau concerns

Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2008

Among the biggest of the vetoes Gov. Sarah Palin announced Friday was a total of $30 million in funding cuts for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

"I am absolutely distraught on the marine highway cuts," said Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau.

In one case, Palin's staff cited a recommendation from the Marine Transportation Advisory Board as justification for a cut.

The ferry cuts came in two places, the vessel replacement fund and a contingency fund.

In one case the Palin administration vetoed $15 million from a plan to put $25 million in a stabilization fund to help the ferry system operate and deal with unforeseen costs.

Karen Rehfeld, Palin's director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the state already acknowledged that the system was facing dramatically higher fuel costs this year, but said they could be dealt with in a supplemental budget later.

"We did discuss that with the DOT, and I'm certain they would have preferred to have the higher amount," she said, but Rehfeld added that the agency was "comfortable with that approach."

Doll wasn't.

"That means the ferry is back to living on bare bones - rubber bands and masking tape," instead of getting ahead of maintenance problems, Doll said.

The other cut came when Palin vetoed another $15 million from a $75 million appropriation to a vessel replacement fund.

Rehfeld cited a Marine Transportation Advisory Board's request of $60 million as justification for the veto, and said an additional appropriation would be needed to build a new vessel anyway.

"The Legislature did put in $75 million; we did reduce it down to the $60 million requested by MTAB," she said.

Doll said not putting money into the ferry system at a time when the state can afford to do so was troubling.

"Our governor makes it very clear she doesn't want to put any money in the (Juneau access) road, and then she takes away from the (ferry) stabilization fund," she said.

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