AMHS funds still intact, but millions vetoed for other projects

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Now that the operating budget has been signed, I wanted to provide you with a brief update on the governor’s vetoes.

Last Tuesday, the governor signed the operating budget after penning over $400 million in vetoes. Including those reductions, this year’s budget still represents a $2.7 billion increase over last year.

Starting with the good: there were no vetoes to the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), the Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), or Cordova’s South Harbor replacement. School bond debt reimbursement, REAA funding, $1.2 billion for forward funding education, University of Alaska operating dollars, a $57 million increase to K-12 education, and other critical items were similarly spared the red pen.

Some of the vetoes I strongly disagree with include $65 million for school major maintenance, $22 million for statewide deferred maintenance, $5 million for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and $1.5 million from public broadcasting. I was also dismayed that $200,000 of EVOS criminal restoration funding was vetoed from the Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC). This was the second time this increment has been inexplicably vetoed, which is made more confusing as (thankfully) the $5.9 million standalone EVOS appropriation to PWSSC was not vetoed.

I also have concerns with three vetoes to the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association for stock origin analysis of Western Alaska salmon, bycatch research, as well as a review of the current salmon plan. Additionally, there were three vetoes to the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission for salmon stock assessments, monitoring of Chinook stocks, as well as a Tatlawiksuk River assessment project. The six vetoes combined for a $1.3 million reduction. ADF&G has initially assured me that the assessments were duplicative of those already occurring, but I remain a little skeptical. This seems like a foolish time to reduce state support for fisheries and bycatch related research. I am meeting with Commissioner Vincent-Lang later this week to discuss these vetoes and their potential impacts in more detail.

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Although I was disappointed with some of the individual vetoes, the governor largely agreed with the work the House Coalition did in crafting a budget that prioritizes funding essential services like education, public safety, and AMHS, and that puts money towards savings.

You can view a summary of the governor’s vetoes at bit.ly/3AtDIPW or the bill markup itself at bit.ly/3bGG1F0.

Unfortunately, the recent request for proposal (RFP) for the replacement M/V Tustumena ended with no bidders on June 23. I am working with DOT&PF in earnest on the next steps, which is engaging our counterparts with Washington State Ferries, as well as potential shipyards, to re-evaluate the proposal for improvements.

I don’t have an estimate regarding when the project will be back out for public bid yet, but I will stay on Commissioner Anderson and the rest of his staff like glue until a new RFP is re-issued and we have a successful bidding process.

Ending on a high note, DOT&PF issued an RFP soliciting bids from qualified vendors to provide supplemental marine passenger and vehicle transportation services in portions of South Central and Southwestern Alaska. This is specifically aimed at providing supplemental service to some smaller communities when there is a breakdown or any other disruption in mainline service. I have been encouraging DOT&PF to pursue this for some time now, and it’s good to see some creative thinking in action.

Remember, I work for you. Please do not hesitate to contact me on any of these issues or anything else important to you and your family.

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, is Speaker of the Alaska House proudly Serving Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat and Seldovia. Reach her at Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov or (907) 465-2487.