On Tuesday, the Alaska House Transportation Committee has scheduled a hearing on proposed legislation that would give the Legislature a say before the governor could sell, transfer or otherwise get rid of a state ferry.
House Bill 253 is sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkin, D-Sitka. Co-sponsors include Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan; Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham; Rep. Sarah Hannan, D-Juneau; Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage; Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; and Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau.
There’s not much text to HB 253.
The legislation’s operative section is this: “Notwithstanding (a) of this section, the (Alaska Department of Transportation) may not sell, transfer, or otherwise dispose of a ferry without first obtaining legislative approval by law.”
As proposed, the legislation clearly is a shot across the bow of an administration that has made its intentions regarding the Alaska Marine Highway System known from almost day 1. Recall that the capital budget proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Feb. 13, 2019, would have shifted millions of dollars from the AMHS Fund and AMHS Vessel Replacement Fund to DOT for the purposes of “divesting the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries and terminals.”
Kriess-Tomkins’ sponsor statement for HB 253 notes that the legislation is co-sponsored by coastal legislators from across Alaska and is a “mayday to help save” AMHS.
“The proposal helps protect past investments into AMHS by ensuring that significant public process occurs before any ferries are permanently taken out of commission,” Kreiss-Tomkins wrote. “Alaskans are concerned that this administration — or future administrations — may dismantle the ferry system to the point that it can no longer serve as a viable means of transportation for people and cargo within the roadless areas of coastal Alaska.
“HB 253 ensures that the voices of those affected by potential future AMHS divestments are heard,” Kriess-Tomkins wrote.
It’s rather a shame to think legislation might be needed to catch the attention of an administration. Adding another political layer to an AMHS process seems less than optimal, given that political involvement is largely responsible for the marine highway’s existing woes. But, given this administration’s behavior to date, such legislation might be a reasonable check on hasty actions that could damage solutions for long-term ferry service for coastal Alaska.
The House Transportation Committee hearing on HB 253 will be teleconferenced at 1 p.m. Tuesday. There is not an opportunity for public comment during the hearing, yet committee members should know that many members of the Alaska public are keenly interested in maintaining a viable ferry transportation system.
This bill could help limit damage to those prospects.