Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, speaks while a crowd listens at a town hall meeting on Tuesday at Juneau-Douglas High School. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, speaks while a crowd listens at a town hall meeting on Tuesday at Juneau-Douglas High School. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Capitol Live: Hundreds turn out for town hall on budget

Live updates from inside the Capitol.

7 p.m.

For what it’s worth, I’d say more than 200 people showed up to to the town hall.

— Alex McCarthy

6:35 p.m.

Kiehl wraps it up with a hopeful message.

“This budget’s not over,” Kiehl says. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re going to keep doing it.”

— Alex McCarthy

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, speaks while Reps. Andi Story, center, and Sara Hannan listen at a town hall meeting on Tuesday at Juneau-Douglas High School. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, speaks while Reps. Andi Story, center, and Sara Hannan listen at a town hall meeting on Tuesday at Juneau-Douglas High School. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

6:32 p.m.

Story urges people to contact the governor’s office and their legislators and to not slow down.

“Keep the noise happening at the Capitol building,” Story says.

Kiehl says something along the same lines, asking people to think outside the box when they contact their lawmakers.

“More creative ideas, keep them coming,” Kiehl says.

— Alex McCarthy

6:30 p.m.

We’re wrapping up here. Every comment/question was critical of Dunleavy and his proposed budget, unsurprisingly.

Still, Hannan mentions that she still gets calls and emails every day from people who are demanding that they want their mega $6,700 PFDs and that legislators shouldn’t be holding up this process.

— Alex McCarthy

6:15 p.m.

University of Alaska Southeast student Noah Williams shares a passionate opinion here, expressing that he believes Dunleavy is not idealistic but is actually corrupt and is only interested in resource development. It kind of whips the crowd here into a frenzy, with whoops and claps punctuating his talk.

Williams implores Juneau’s legislators to not be intimidated by the governor. Kiehl says he and the two representatives aren’t intimidated by anybody. He says he learned a lesson long ago from a former Juneau representative.

“Sometimes people mistake being nice for being weak,” he says, “but they don’t do it twice.”

— Alex McCarthy

6 p.m.

Hannan says she plans on introducing a bill tomorrow that will tax e-cigarette cartridge sales. Hannan, who is pro-tax, said this is a small step toward finding another revenue stream.

— Alex McCarthy

5:45 p.m.

The two representatives are asked what they’re doing to make sure this session gets done on a reasonable timeline. Story says the House will be releasing its recommendations on the budget on March 22.

“The House wants to put a very different budget out there from the governor’s proposal,” Story says.

Hannan adds that there will probably be very little personal legislation this session because all the attention will be on the budget.

— Alex McCarthy

5:40 p.m.

Outspoken Juneauite and CBJ Assembly meeting fixture Dennis Harris gets the first question. He asks, tongue-in-cheek, if the members of the delegation believe Dunleavy’s budget is intentionally hurting Southeast Alaska because the area elects legislators who tend to be on the other side of the aisle from him.

There are some chuckles through the room. All three of the lawmakers say they don’t believe this is motivated by any kind of revenge. Both Kiehl and Hannan talk about how the governor is just following his ideology. Kiehl says that this ideology could easily crash the state’s economy.

— Alex McCarthy

5:33 p.m.

This survey was available for anyone in attendance. Some interesting questions posed here:

A survey handed out at the Juneau Legislative Delegation’s town hall meeting on Tuesday.

A survey handed out at the Juneau Legislative Delegation’s town hall meeting on Tuesday.

— Alex McCarthy

5:25 p.m.

Budget guru David Teal from the Legislative Finance Division is explaining Alaska’s fiscal situation to provide a base for this event. He’s showing charts and graphs, but breaks it down like this: Governments basically have three ways of balancing the budget — pull from reserves, raise revenues or cut expenditures.

The state has burned through almost all of its savings, Teal explains, so that crosses that options out. In terms of revenue, Gov. Mike Dunleavy doesn’t want to impose a tax, so that option is also out.

“The governor doesn’t like revenue,” Teal says. “He doesn’t see it that way, that we have a revenue problem.”

That leaves this administration just with the option of reducing expenditures, Teal says.

— Alex McCarthy

5:16 p.m.

Here at Juneau-Douglas High School, dozens of people have gathered to munch on Bullwinkle’s Pizza and hear from Juneau’s legislators. This is the second town hall meeting that has happened in Juneau since the session started, and the first since the House organized a couple weeks ago.

Both Andi Story and Sara Hannan are talking about the advantages of them being in the House majority and being in multiple budget subcommittees.

“It turns out our region is very pro-marine highway,” Hannan says, which gets a round of applause.

Jan Caulfield moderates a town hall meeting about Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget on Tuesday. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Jan Caulfield moderates a town hall meeting about Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget on Tuesday. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

— Alex McCarthy

3:10 p.m.

“The AMHS is necessary for the health, cultures and economies of Alaska,” says Rorie Watt, city manager for CBJ.

There’s some frustration among people in the crowd, because they didn’t get through all of the testimony. They will reconvene at 5:30 p.m. to take testimony. They will also have testimony at 1:30-3 p.m. on Thursday.

— Mollie Barnes

3 p.m.

Someone on the line says that it’s a state safety issue, because the ferry system is the only ground transportation that connects Alaska with the rest of the country without going through a foreign country.

Norm Carson, the president of Pelican’s Chamber of Commerce, says a seafood processing plant opened up 10 years ago and relies on the ferry system for business.

“Without the ferry service, this is in jeopardy,” Carson says.

“It’s not every year that I have to decide between the ferry system and the PFD,” says Janet Kussart. “So I don’t want the PFD. I want this administration to raise revenues, and I feel like an income tax is a fair revenue to raise. I don’t want to privitize as I feel the state knows how to run the ferry system best, and I think it will cost us more if we do something like that.”

She says she needs to be able to travel with her car to get out of the state, and without a ferry system she can’t do that.

— Mollie Barnes

2:50 p.m.

Buck Lindekugel, says he wants to add one point, that if the state does not use transportation assets paid for with federal funding, the federal government can claw back the money.

“Inexcusably, OMB has not evaluated the fiscal impacts… we ask you to do so,” Lindekugel says.

— Mollie Barnes

2:40 p.m.

Someone on the line says crippling the ferry system will only strengthen the monopoly that freight services like Lynden Transport have in the state.

Someone else suggest taking the ferry system out of the Department of Transportation.

“I was born and raised here in Southeast Alaska,” Roy Smith says. “A memory that stands out vividly, and one I’ll never forget is watching the inaugural run of the Alaska state ferry.”

He says the ferry system became an integral part of life and he got to particpate in many school functions because of the ferry.

“It will truly be a sad day if our ferry system becomes nothing more than just a fond memory,” Smith says.

— Mollie Barnes

2:30 p.m.

Carole Triem is speaking. She’s a member on the City and Borough of Juneau’s Assembly.

“I have another request for you and that is to be very thoughtful and deliberate when you talk about this program,” she says, adding that comparing highways to the ferry system pits Alaskans against each other, and right now what the state needs is to work together.

— Mollie Barnes

2:20 p.m.

Shoshana Sullivan, a 25-year Juneau resident and AMHS employee, says, “If another study needs to be done, please consider using the knowledge of the mates on the boats. We have a lot of information. Please consider using what we have and keeping our infrastructure in place.”

Much of the testimony from on the phone has talked about the importance of the ferry system for transporting large appliances, cars and for students who use the ferries for transportation to sporting and arts events.

— Mollie Barnes

2:10 p.m.

“The guaranteed freight service is vital to the infrastructure repairs that we are undertaking,” said Pelican Mayor Walt Weller. “The ferry is our economic highway and necessary for rebuilding our community and businesses. Pelican supports the continuation of the existing ferry service for all of Southeast Alaska.”

Testimony is going back to the people in the room.

“I’m more than willing to give my PFD and even pay an income tax so we can fund essential government services,” says a Juneau resident in the room.

“Labor is willing and able and honest and wants to find efficiences in the system… and we don’t have to keep spending money on consultants,” says Robb Arnold, chief purser on the Alaska Marine Highway’s Malaspina ferry.

— Mollie Barnes

People pack the room to give public testimony on the Alaska Marine Highway System in the House Transportation and Public Facilities committee on March, 12, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

People pack the room to give public testimony on the Alaska Marine Highway System in the House Transportation and Public Facilities committee on March, 12, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

2 p.m.

Allen Lanning, the city manager in Cordova, says cutting the ferry system negatively affects the ability to transfer goods, schools and their tourism economy.

“Cordova supports a consistent and reliable ferry system,” he says.

Joyce Frank is speaking here in the room for Angoon.

“My husband and I we’ve been traveling for medical use,” she says, “I would like (you) to really hear our voices, not just for our community, but for Kake, Alaska…the ferry system is really good for our communities.”

— Mollie Barnes

1:41 p.m.

Notably, two Juneau elected officials are in the crowd here. City Manager Rorie Watt and Assembly member Carole Triem are standing in the crowd listening to the testimonies.

Only five of the committee members are present. Representatives Claman, Drummond, Stutes, Story and Talerico are here listening to the testimony.

One person who is testifying on the line says reduced scheduling has caused reduced ridership, not the other way around. People are clapping for that.

— Mollie Barnes

1:40 p.m.

Co-Chair of the committee, Rep. Louise Stutes, says the lines are jammed with people hoping to testify.

“You can give me a larger dividend, however it’s going to cost me more to get groceries and other services in my community, which means I’m going to pay more in the long run,” says one Kodiak resident on the line. “I want to say please at least keep some sort of ferry service here…I understand that everybody has to cut back, but please give us something.”

— Mollie Barnes

1:35 p.m.

Ernie Weiss is the first to testify. He’s the only invited testimony.

He’s an Anchorage resident speaking to the importance of the ferry system. He’s the Natural Resources Director for the Aleutians East Borough.

“The ferry is our road,” Weiss says. “Closing this road doubly impacts our schools who are also taking cuts.”

— Mollie Barnes

1:24 p.m.

It’s a full house for the ferry public testimony hearing. The line’s out the door and through the hallway with people who are hoping to testify before the House committee on proposed budget cuts to the ferry system.

The meeting with get going in a few minutes.

— Mollie Barnes

1:03 p.m.

“We need a level of minimum service to these communities in Alaska,” Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau says.

A representative from DOT&PF says there are many communities in Alaska that only have air service, so those communities affected by closing the ferry system would just become like those communities.

“We all remember that the Marine Highway System was built when there were only float planes, and you really couldn’t count on them because of weather and so the marine highway system solved that problem,” said Mary Siroky, deputy commissioner from DOT&PF. “All those communities now have a land-based airport, which increases the amount of service that they have dramatically.”

But Story is not satisfied with the timeline of ending the service.

“This timeline is very abrupt,” Story says. “If you are going to plan and change a system so dramatically to me it would be something you would hope the timeline would be the following year so systems can plan and recover…I think it’s inappropriate for it to be in this fiscal year.”

— Mollie Barnes

12:49 p.m.

“In all honesty I don’t think you can compare the paved highway with a ferry vessel,” Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla. She says the ferry system is actually a transportation route that makes revenue, since passengers pay fees to ride it.

— Mollie Barnes

12:34 p.m.

The Office of Budget and Management has only received one application proposal for the Alaska Marine Highway System to hire a consultant to come in and study the ferry system and make recommendations, according to OMB Management Director Amanda Holland.

She’s speaking to the House Transportation and Public Facilities committee before they start take public testimony in about an hour.

Read more about the plan here: Study for ferry system’s future moving on ‘aggressive’ timeline

She says as long they will select the applicant as long as the proposal meets their requirements.

The study is scheduled to begin March 18. This timeline comes as a directive from the governor, according to the presentations.

The study would be due July 31, according to the presentations, which were given to members of the Senate Transportation and Public Facilities Committee.

— Mollie Barnes

11:30 a.m.

Rogers says the Ocean Ranger program has done some good, but its costs are “disproportionate” in terms of how much good it does. He compares it to if every time you get into your car, a state trooper gets in the passenger seat. You’ll drive safer, but it’s just not fiscally efficient to put a state trooper in every car.

“In the department’s analysis, it does not merit $4 million in costs,” Rogers says.

Fields continues to push, saying there are thousands of people on a cruise ship, making it somewhat like a small city. Having one person on board, he says, is reasonable and is quite different from having a state trooper in every individual’s car.

— Alex McCarthy

Department of Environmental Conservation Administrative Services Director Jeff Rogers answers a question during a meeting of the House Environmental Conservation Finance Subcommittee on Tuesday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Department of Environmental Conservation Administrative Services Director Jeff Rogers answers a question during a meeting of the House Environmental Conservation Finance Subcommittee on Tuesday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

11:28 a.m.

Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, says he’s vehemently opposed to totally repealing the program. He says that it’s highly unlikely that this committee (that he co-chairs) will approve of totally repealing it. He says he’s open to taking a closer look at what could make the program more effective.

— Alex McCarthy

11:25 a.m.

Jeff Rogers, the administrative services director for the Department of Environmental Conservation, says during this meeting that the repeal of the Ocean Ranger program has been on the table for a few years. Rogers (who will soon be the finance director for the City and Borough of Juneau) says the department identified the program as a fairly low priority.

Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, the chair of the committee, says he understands that this wouldn’t actually save money from the Undesignated General Fund (UGF). Rogers says that’s correct, the funding for this program doesn’t come out of the general fund.

— Alex McCarthy

11:05 a.m.

To reiterate, it seems like everyone is awaiting that public testimony at 1:30. The hallways remain pretty quiet.

There should be an interesting meeting here in a few minutes about proposed budget changes to the Department of Environmental Conservation, including the proposed elimination of the Ocean Ranger program. That program puts officials on cruise ships to monitor their emissions and environmental impact.

There’s been a bit of backlash to this proposal, as the program doesn’t cost the state much and wouldn’t have a huge impact on the state’s overall budget. It will be interesting to hear some of the thoughts during this House Environmental Conservation Committee meeting.

— Alex McCarthy

9:50 a.m.

Those looking to testify tonight can contact their local Legislative Information Office (LIO) either between 1:30-3 p.m. or between 5:30 and 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

LIO Locations are as follows: Anchorage: 1500 West Benson Boulevard; Cordova: 418 First Street, Suite A; Dillingham: Kangiiqutaq Building; Homer: 270 West Pioneer Avenue, Suite B; Juneau: Alaska Capitol Building, Room 124; Kenai: 145 Main Street Loop, Suite 217; Ketchikan: 1900 First Avenue, Suite 310; Kodiak: 305 Center Avenue, Suite 1; Petersburg: 11B Gjoa Street; Seward: 302 Railway, Suite 107; Sitka: 201 Katlian Street; Valdez: State Office Building, Room 13; and Wrangell: 223 Front Street.

People who live in villages or other rural areas without an LIO can call 844-586-9085. These phone lines are limited, so the best bet to be heard is to go to an LIO if you live in an area that has one.

— Alex McCarthy

9:45 a.m.

The Capitol is extremely quiet right now, but it won’t be that way for long. At 1:30 p.m., the House Transportation Committee will take public testimony about the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Read more on that here.

— Alex McCarthy

People pack the room to give public testimony on the Alaska Marine Highway System in the House Transportation and Public Facilities committee on March, 12, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

People pack the room to give public testimony on the Alaska Marine Highway System in the House Transportation and Public Facilities committee on March, 12, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

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