Rep. Stutes fixates on ferry system, while state needs go unheeded



Following the third public hearing on the Alaska Marine Highway System budget, other legislators are saying enough is enough to Rep. Louise Stutes, who chairs the House Transportation Committee. At a press availability, they and Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard said the state infrastructure needs are being ignored by the House Democrat-led leadership.

Hundreds of Alaskans, and some from Washington State, have testified in Stutes’ committee this week that they want the ferries to remain with either existing funding or more funding. One testifier said the proposed budget cuts were “political terrorism.” None has offered suggestions about how ferries could operate differently, such as having users pay for their own fares, rather than having the state pay for the fares of Alaskans and tourists.

Rep. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage), and Rep. Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River) said the state has other needs, and those are being dismissed by the Transportation Committee chairwoman as she fights for ferries for her district.

“While the House Transportation Committee sits through yet another session of testimony this afternoon on the Alaska Marine Highway System, the rest of our state’s transportation and infrastructure issues continue to be neglected,” said Rasmussen.

“While I understand the importance of the Marine Highway System and generally support efforts to continue ferry service in a cost-effective manner, there are other important issues that warrant our immediate consideration. Our state owns and operates 239 airports, including Ted Stevens International Airport. The Port of Alaska, which imports 3.5 million tons of food and goods Alaskans need annually, is crumbling and needs repairs. We have thousands of miles of highways and railroads that need to be maintained. These issues are critically important to our ability to grow Alaska’s economy and they’re being completely ignored. Rather than spending hours fixated on one government system, we should be focusing on the whole – investing our time and resources in modern infrastructure through projects like the Juneau Access Road – that could fundamentally revolutionize both the economies of Southeast Alaska and the rest of the state.”

The Port of Alaska is owned by the Municipality of Anchorage, but needs at least $2 billion in repairs to remain usable. Some have suggested it be transferred to the State of Alaska or to a state port authority, since the majority of Alaska’s goods come through that port. The docks will have to start closing due to corrosion within about nine years, and new docks will take at least eight years to build.

Merrick, who lives in Eagle River, spoke to the needs of the Juneau community, where she was born and raised. “I also believe that this is an opportunity to look for long-term, fiscally responsible solutions that will bolster tourism and industry in the region without forcing Alaskans to give up more of their Permanent Fund Dividends,” said Merrick.

“We need to think about investing in capital projects like the Juneau Access Road and maintenance to improve our state’s existing infrastructure and accessibility. Advancing these projects in Alaska creates jobs that our state desperately needs,” she said.

The Juneau Access Project was killed by former Gov. Bill Walker.

But Stutes, who represents Kodiak, Seldovia, and Cordova, is on a mission to fully fund the ferry system. Must Read Alaska learned that Stutes has sent a video crew onto the M/V LeConte to do a promotional video in support of the existing funding of the ferry, and the transportation needs of coastal communities. No word yet on how the video is being funded.


  1. It’s funny that Rep Stutes is leading the charge for the Marine Highway system for coastal Alaska.

    For years commercial fishing advocates across coastal Alaska have stated that it is the largest employer in Alaska, bragged about it being essential to the coastal Alaskan economy, and that it is a sustainable and renewable resource which must be prioritized over any other type of resource development.

    Commercial fishermen are the poster children leading the charge against oil and gas, mining and tourism.

    Yet their true colors are now showing brightly – oh you can’t possibly take away the state fish tax subsidy from us, because, because, because.

    Stutes as the chair of the House Fisheries committee made sure the ill fated Stand for Salmon made it to the ballot.

    Now we hear you can’t possibly reduce the hugely subsidized marine ferry system in coastal Alaskan, because, because, because.

    Stutes as the House Transportation chair is ensuring the rest of the state is held at ransom to keep the subsidy gravy train running and on time.

    Of course the state subsidies for the pink salmon hatchery factory also must continue unabated and subsidized. Stutes and House fisheries will make sure if that.

    All other revolving bank loan programs are being axed, all except, surprise, you guessed it, the state backed commercial fishing loan programs.

    Everywhere one turns in this state there is another commercial fishing subsidy unearthed and exposed.

    An industry that exports 6 billion pounds of seafood at a wholesale value of $6 billion per year – can’t seem to figure how to stay afloat without massive state and federal government subsidies at every turn.

    From fish taxes to ferries to hatcheries to harbors to fish management – coastal Alaska and the tentacles of the commercial fishing industry declare they are Alaska’s flagship for the “blue” renewable resource economy – yet can’t seem to ever cover their own tab – for anything, without a handout of some sort.

    Think of this – some $6 billion of seafood is exported from Alaska every year – yet here is an industry that produces coastal millionaires but can’t ever seem to cover the true cost of its own business, much less contribute anything to the coffers of state government or the permanent fund.

    • Nice rant.

      Ok, I’ll bite. What’s the “fish tax subsidy”?

      Pink salmon hatcheries are operated by private non-profit aquaculture associations, not the State of Alaska. There is no “State subsidy” for their operation.

      Carry on.

  2. This is what happens when you elect a Republican majority in the house and then turnover control to the Democrats who pursue their own agenda. I have talked to many of my fellow Alaskans who do not understand why Republicans who are duly elected by their constituents, go to Juneau and turncoat, give the power over to the Democratic Party.

  3. Wow you wrote “None has offered suggestions about how ferries could operate differently, such as having users pay for their own fares, rather than having the state pay for the fares of Alaskans and tourists.” Every time I tune into this rag I see something stupid that you’ve written don’t you kind of have to do your homework before you sit down to write so according to you ferry tickets are free . Paid for by the hard-working Alaskans up in the rail belt . Here’s a newsflash to people one way from Bellingham to Whittier get charged $1400 . That’s no room no car just walking on the ferry . But shut down the Glenn Highway for a few months and see if there’s any crying about it and see whether not we should have better priorities . In fact we can make all the roads in Alaska toll roads are just divide the whole DOT budget to set the fares . That would be equal right .

  4. It is better to remain silent and be thought ignorant than to type and remove all doubt. It costs about 2 cents per vehicle mile to operate and maintain the Glenn Highway. It costs almost $5 per vehicle mile to operate and maintain the AMHS. One thing is not like the other.

    And just to be clear both the surface highways and the marine highway get federal highway money for construction, mostly on a 90/10 match basis, so we’re not talking about construction costs, just operations and maintenance costs. That $1400 ticket you’re whining about costs the State two or three times that.

    • There is not a reason in the world that the AMHS should be sailing from Bellingham to Whittier because your can DRIVE on land between those destinations. Cut ALL sailings between road ports. Sailings between Whittier and Valdez are 40 % of PWS sailings. Create legislation that mandates no routes between ports that can be driven between on highways. This mandate would save at a minimum of 40 to 50%.

  5. Great reporting and comments on the fisheries tie in by Fisker Du. How hard is it to realize putting the State in charge of anything means your giving up responsibility that the enitity exist on it’s own merit. Subsidizing means divorcing from reality and eventually it catches up and you have Venezuela.

  6. The ferry system is important alright, but like any program needs to be re-evaluated from time to time to make sure its working as it should and still cost effective considering the currant economy. But funny that people in Washington State are chiming in. I’m thinking a large contribution of funds to the Alaska treasury from Washington State would be helpful if they have input. Or maybe Bellingham.

    • There shouldn’t be AMHS out of Bellingham Wa. Anyone wanting to get to Ketchikan or Juneau can drive to Haines and ferr from Haines to Ketchikan or Juneau. The decades of ferry service from the state of WA needs to stop. People you can drive to Haines or Skagway and get on an AMHS ferry IN state to reach your destination. The money should not be eaten up for our AMHS for ferry tourists to Ketchikan and Juneau ‘s front step to give them increased tourist dollars. No sailings between ports that can drive to each other.

  7. The sad part about talking about the ferry system is there was a study in 2016 concerning making the ferry system more self sufficient. Walker didn’t do a damn thing with it. I guess the state just went ahead and subsidized another study to nowhere.
    Stutes ran as a republican but instantly went over to the democratic majority and has been camped out ever since. Now she is holding the committee hostage and I think willfully until she gets agreements from other Legislatures to back her play.
    Another point I would like to bring up on Commercial fishing. In UCI, fish and game manages the fisheries. Did you know it costs more to prosecute that fishery than is taken in by a landing Tax? So the state has been subsidizing comfishing in Cook Inlet, at a loss. Raise the landing Fish Tax!!! If anyone just read about what transpired at the recent Board of Fish meeting last week, they would know that comfishers want to stay in the drivers seat, but can’t pay their own way Fisker Du, great post BTW

  8. Let’s see: A shrinking population in southeast with Juneau containing 40% of the entire southeast AK population, ferries running below 50% capacity. We recently rode the ferry last Sept., and it was quite disheartening compared to when we left southeast 7 yrs ago (also there’s no wi-fi, can’t use your cell phones unless you’re docked or near towns).When we lived in Ketchikan (then later Petersburg) there were locals that would not step a foot on the ferry, instead they would fly on the full-service JET that comes to an island with 2,500 people! And why not? Wi-fi, free movies, drinks, meals and bonus? You’re in the lower 48 or Anchorage in a few hrs. v.s. a few days. You can now ship stuff (which we did) on the barge way cheaper than the ferry. In it’s heyday, it was great, we loved traveling on it, but now after our most recent travel on it in Sept.? It’s a tired system and needs to be fixed. I agree with the consensus to dump the Prince Rupert/Bellingham ferry, utilize IFA ferries more efficiently within the smaller communities according to their needs; open back up the Hyder dock for access to the lower 48. You still got Haines & Skagway for northern access. Keeping in mind that this state has only 737,000 population in it’s entirety, with over 220,000 on medicaid. That’s only 517,000 people to raise taxes on (or ask to pay a state income tax). Alaska only increased its population by 36,000 in 9 years. There is not enough people to increase taxes on for everybody’s wish list. Something is going to have to be cut, and a lot.

  9. “None has offered suggestions about how ferries could operate differently, such as having users pay for their own fares, rather than having the state pay for the fares of Alaskans and tourists.” Were you watching the same hearing I was? I heard lots of ideas, even when crammed into a 1 minute time limit. There was already a working group trying to find public/private solutions to the political football the ferry has been for the last 15 years. And pay my way? Haven’t had a free ride on the ferry yet. Cracks me up how you guys just like to make stuff up.

  10. Anyone who fails to recognize the importance of the ferry system is not equipped to be a legislator!

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