State lawmakers sent a bill to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office on Wednesday that boosters say ensure better long-term planning of the state-run ferry system.
Alaska’s marine highway system has been grappling with deep spending cuts, an aging fleet, and declining ridership as it carries fewer ships to coastal communities.
But he is also criticized for poor planning decisions that have kept its brand new Alaska class ferries tied to the dock.
Senator Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said the Ferry Reform Bill would replace an existing advisory group with a nine-member Alaska Sea Route Operations Committee tasked with developing a vision for the short and long term.
“Their job is to assess and suggest marine business and procurement practices, improve revenues and reduce costs,” Stevens said during the Senate debate on Tuesday.
The bill, drafted by Kodiak Republican House Speaker Louise Stutes, was passed unanimously by both the House and the Senate. Senator Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, said he was concerned the ferry reform bill did not go far enough to change a culture of the status quo at the state Department of Transportation.
“We have an empire at DOT and we have to break that mold of doing things the way we’ve always done,” Shower said. “And although this is a step in that direction, I am still not convinced that it is doing what we need, based on our discussions, and we will continue to work on a more ambitious plan. . “
Four of the nine council members would be appointed by the legislative branch. This is in stark contrast to a separate legislative proposal from Governor Dunleavy it failed to gain ground in either the House or the Senate.
The governor’s office earlier this month suggested lawmakers appointing members to an executive council would violate the separation of powers in the state constitution.
But on Wednesday, Gov. Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner pushed back on that opposition, without saying whether the governor would sign or veto the bill.
“When the bill goes to the governor’s office, it will review the legislation,” Turner told CoastAlaska via email.