Governor wants $17 million more annually for ferries

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles wants nearly $17 million more for the Alaska Marine Highway System to improve ferry operations next fiscal year.

It is part of $115.5 million in increased general fund spending the Knowles administration will request from the Legislature to maintain existing state services in the July 1, 2002 fiscal year.

Annalee McConnell, budget director for Gov. Tony Knowles, released the list of spending requests Tuesday.

The Department of Transportation wants more money to return service levels to the near 1999 level of 317 weeks of ship operation. This fiscal year, ferries will provide 294 weeks of service.

''Today's service is unacceptable to our customers,'' said Capt. George Capacci, general manager of the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The budget proposal for the Alaska Marine Highway System is $86.1 million in expenditures, which includes a request for $45.5 million from the Legislature.

Transportation officials are projecting $16.4 million more in spending, due in part to the exhaustion of its marine highway reserve account.

The account has been depleted due to flat legislative funding and unusual events, said Capacci.

Among those was a ferry blockade by British Columbia fishermen in 1997 and a fire on the Columbia in June 2000.

The Legislature appropriated $30.6 million in fiscal year 1992 and hasn't matched that amount since, Capacci said.

''I think we've done a disservice to them over the years,'' said House Majority Leader Jeannette James, a North Pole Republican.

Republican co-chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee, Dave Donley of Anchorage and Pete Kelly of Fairbanks, could not be reached for comment.

Knowles must submit his budget proposal by Dec. 15.

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