House finance leaders consider cut to ferry system

Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- House budget leaders are considering a $5 million cut in the state ferry operations budget.

That cut would be equivalent to taking the ferry Taku out of service, although that is not necessarily the action that would be taken, said Capt. George Capacci, operations manager for the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The Taku links Prince Rupert, British Columbia, with Skagway and Haines, and through them the Interior, Capacci said.

The House is developing a ''hold-the-line'' budget that would not allow an overall increase in the state general fund.

Due to population-driven programs, some of them linked to federal spending, there is about $90 million in increased spending that the state cannot get around, said House Finance Co-chairman Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage. To maintain flat-funding, that much in cuts must be found elsewhere, Mulder said.

The Legislature appropriated about $28 million for the ferry system last year, an amount that has not varied much over the past decade. However, after a key reserve account was used up, Gov. Tony Knowles asked for a $45 million appropriation to continue the approximate level of service the ferry system has offered in recent years.

The House budget allocation would cut that to $40 million.

''I think it'll make a huge difference in our communities,'' said Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, after a House finance subcommittee meeting Tuesday.

Wilson, a member of the bipartisan Fiscal Policy Caucus, has pushed for new revenue so that the state can afford to fully fund basic services.

She said the ferry component might be enough for her to vote against the whole budget on the House floor.

Capacci said legislators need to keep in mind that the term ''marine highway'' is intentional.

''It can't be a sightseeing system that always shuts down after the summer time,'' he said.

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