There were cookies, cider and even broccoli laid out for guests of the Juneau delegation to the Alaska Legislature’s open house Friday.
Sen. Jesse Kiehl and Reps. Sara Hannan and Andi Story, all Juneau Democrats, hosted a holiday meet-and-greet at their offices on the fourth floor of the Alaska State Capitol. Juneauites wandered from office to office, chatting with their local lawmakers about the issues most important to them.
Speaking to a small group crammed into the entry-way of her office, Hannan said she was, “totally irritated” with the current status of the Alaska Marine Highway System.
“How could you have let it limp along,” she said. “The governor’s budget has a little bit more money, but it’s not enough to restore any routes.”
Hannan said she believed there would be more support for the ferries this year because many non-coastal communities will better understand the impacts lack of service is having.
When Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed an extra $5 million the legislature appropriated during the special session to restore winter service to Cordova, his office said it was because that funding was “premature” until a reshaping study from Northern Economics is completed.
That study was supposed to be completed in December but has not yet been released.
Kiehl said he was in favor of the public corporation model favored by Southeast Conference, which that group says would enhance efficiency and sustainability.
“This is a state entity. Every significant ferry system requires some public investment. But you can wring a little bit of the political fluctuation out of it,” Kiehl said. “If every four years or eight years you get a whole new vision for the ferries, it’s tough to make smart decisions on $40 million (investments)”
Not everyone who attended the open house came with issues on their minds. Damon Stuber and Rebecca Smith said they had come to support Kiehl, who they said is a personal friend.
“And to support the local delegation before they take off for the holidays,” Smith said.
Melissa Kolwaite only moved to Alaska a week ago and wanted to meet her local representatives. Kolwaite said she had just moved from Colorado to Juneau for family reasons. She said she wanted to get acquainted with Alaska politics.
“What better way than at a holiday party?” she asked.
When Dunleavy released his budget earlier this month, he said he wanted the Legislature to look at some of the formula-driven costs that are driving much of the state budget. Many state programs are funded by statute, which can only be changed by lawmakers.
But as far as formulas go, Story felt that strategic investments were needed for programs which had been cut last year.
“I know from school board and looking at those budgets down to the penny that there’s not fat in those budgets,” she said.
All three lawmakers said they have bills in the works for when the legislative session starts, Jan. 20, 2020.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.