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A record number of Alaskans turned out this past week to tell the House Transportation Committee what they think about the Alaska Marine Highway System and the service it provides.
More than 600 people signed up to testify during the hearings on Tuesday and Thursday, and 241 people submitted written testimony, according to information from the Alaska House majority organization.
That’s a lot of people.
It was the “highest recorded on any topic since the Legislative Information Office began recording testimony,” according to the majority announcement.
And the people who took the time to attend the hearings and state their opinions weren’t from just one part of Alaska. They were from across the coastal regions — including Ketchikan, Metlakatla and Prince of Wales Island — and beyond.
What could bring so many voices together? The proposed state operating and capital budgets that would spell the end of the ferry system and facilitate the sale of the existing vessels and terminals. No Alaskan can be surprised that the public testimony was overwhelmingly against the AMHS proposals made by Gev. Mike Dunelavy.
“This is irrefutable evidence that Alaskans are unwilling to accept dramatic cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System,” Rep. Louise Stutes, the Kodiak Republican who co-chairs the House Transportation Committee, said in a prepared statement published Friday.
Irrefutable evidence. Impossible to misinterpret. Difficult to ignore.
Since unveiling its proposed budgets on Feb. 13, the administration has been clear that it made few if any attempts to analyze or understand the potential impacts of its proposals.
Now it’s up to Alaskans who do understand the likely impacts to fill the void by speaking up.
They did so this past week regarding AMHS. They can do so next weekend on the whole range of budget proposals.
The House Finance Committee has taken the unprecedented step in scheduling public hearings in Ketchikan and seven other Alaska communities this weekend to hear directly from the public — in communities in which they live — about the governor’s budget proposals.
Scheduling the public hearings has been criticized by some, such as Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, as wasting money in a “disingenuous and irresponsible” effort to “peddle political motives.”
Perhaps if the governor and his budget director had bothered to gather input before dropping a disingenuous, irresponsible and politically motivated budget proposal, it wouldn’t be so necessary to extend opportunities for Alaskans to provide input now.
The House Finance Committee is correct to schedule these hearings this weekend, and to encourage Alaskans to participate.
In Ketchikan, the public hearing opportunity is from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.
Let your voice be heard.