Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, speaks at a joint meeting of the Juneau Legislative Delegation and the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, speaks at a joint meeting of the Juneau Legislative Delegation and the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Local lawmakers worried about funding for ferry service, public safety

The uncertain future of the Alaska Marine Highway System and funding for public safety services dominated the conversation as City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members and the city’s legislative delegates met Friday morning.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, was the first legislator to speak at the meeting and called the AMHS “our lifeline,” and said it’s a shame that all of the people at the Capitol don’t understand its importance.

“It’s a horrible thing to say but a lot of Railbelt legislators don’t care,” Egan said. “They don’t want to know how the Alaska Marine Highway System operates. … We had more cuts last year, we may get more cuts this year.”

[Juneau legislators ‘worried’ about upcoming session]

The ferry system has been on the verge of shutting down due to lack of funds, and could be forced to stop service by the time this summer rolls around.

Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, said it’s key to find sustainable funding for the ferry system. He also said he’s planning on proposing a bill during this session to force the Legislature to set a schedule for the AMHS before it moves on to the rest of the budget.

Egan expressed concern over news recently that parts of a new Alaska-class ferry, the Hubbard, will be constructed outside of Alaska. When the program was designed, the intent was to have every part of the new ferries built within the state.

“It looks to me and it scares me that it’s not going to work out,” Egan said.

Another prospect that has legislators worried is the lack of resources dedicated to public safety across the state. Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, spoke with particular fervor about the challenges facing prosecutors as well as front-line law enforcement in the state.

There are fewer criminal justice employees statewide, Parish said, putting more work on the plates of prosecutors and public defenders as well as forcing courthouses to keep shorter hours. Police agencies are also stretched thin, as evidenced by the Juneau Police Department announcing that it was operating at about 80 percent capacity in December.

“It really makes our state a less safe to continue in the philosophy of cut, cut, cut,” Parish said. “It’s not wise, it’s not prudent. We must, and we can find areas where we can be more efficient.”

Municipal Lobbyist Kevin Jardell said Friday that public safety and the ferry system will both be priorities during this session. Jardell said the AMHS serves Juneau in particular because Juneau is the hub for all of Southeast. He also spoke a bit about the state continuing to fund education, and others in the room (namely Parish) said they wanted the Legislature to look more into funding early childhood education.

Multiple people said this will be an important session both for Juneau and the state as a whole, and Kito took a few pointers from Gov. Bill Walker’s State of the State address in saying that legislators need to put aside their differences to reach a budget solution this session.

“One of the problems we have in our nation, in our state, sometimes in our local government, we end up pointing fingers,” Kito said. “It becomes a case of ‘us and them,’ but we have to realize that them is us. We are all one people. We are all residents of Juneau, we are all residents of the state of Alaska, we are all residents of our great country.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Dec. 3

Gavel (Courtesy Photo / Juneau Empire file)
Judicial appointments announced

Three of the four presiding Superior Court judges have been reappointed, outgoing… Continue reading

Male harlequins earn their name with their patchwork colors. (Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: The colorful world of harlequins

On a cold, windy day in late November, I wandered out to… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Dec. 6

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

People and dogs traverse the frozen surface Mendenhall Lake on Monday afternoon. Officials said going on to any part of Mendenhall Lake can open up serious risks for falling into the freezing waters. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Officials warn residents about the dangers of thin ice on Mendenhall Lake

Experts outline what to do in the situation that someone falls through ice

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read