Alaska House passes bill to create board in charge of long-term ferry system planning

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 12:35 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska House of Representatives has unanimously passed legislation that would establish a board in charge of short and long-term planning for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

“Our ferry system is floundering,” said Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, describing the impacts of thin ferry service to Southeast Alaska in recent years. “It really affects people’s lives.”

If passed by the Senate, the new nine-member operations board would write advisory reports to the Legislature on ship maintenance, pricing and the future of the fleet. The idea is that the board could think longer term than a one or two-year budget cycle.

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The concept of a new operations board, replacing one that is broadly seen as ineffective, comes from a workgroup established by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to take a broad look at Alaska’s ferries. The central difference between Dunleavy’s proposal and the one passed by the House is who would appoint board members.

Under the House proposal, the board would have a deputy commissioner of the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities. That deputy commissioner would sit alongside a union member and a member of a tribe or Alaska Native organization appointed by the governor.

Two public members would be chosen by the Senate president, two other members would be chosen by the House speaker. A final two members would be appointed by the governor.

Under Dunleavy’s proposal, all nine members would have been appointed by the governor.

A legal memorandum prepared by the Legislature’s attorneys raises constitutional questions about the House bill. It suggests that there could be a separation of powers issue with the Legislature appointing members to an executive branch board, but it notes that that does take place with other advisory boards.

The bill passed 37-0. It heads to the Senate for its consideration.

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