My Turn: Transportation funding fallacies deserve correction

  • By MARC LUIKEN
  • Sunday, January 10, 2016 1:02am
  • Opinion

Alaskans are facing a sobering reality: we can no longer afford the same service levels from state government. An oil revenue-induced state deficit resulted in the Alaska State Legislature reducing government’s fiscal year 2016 general fund budget by $404.1 million. These cuts affected every state agency. The Legislature directed the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) to reduce its general fund operating budget by $34.6 million.

ADOT&PF has managed this significant reduction to the best of its ability by balancing the cuts across the entire department. The general fund reductions include: $11.1 million for Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS); $16 million for maintenance of highways, airports and facilities; and $7.5 million for support services.

Nearly 96 percent of ADOT&PF’s general fund operating budget goes toward direct services. This includes maintenance and operations of roads, airports, public facilities and AMHS. The other four percent funds support services such as accounting, auditing, IT, and staff necessary to meet federal funding requirements.

Contrary to the arguments of some, every company – including government agencies – requires staff to process paperwork, issue paychecks, create operating plans and manage employees. This creates an efficient organization with an appropriate level of staff performing valuable behind the scenes work that enables equipment operators and ferry workers to focus their time toward directly serving Alaskans.

A look into where ADOT&PF positions were eliminated in the fiscal year ‘16 operating budget demonstrates that the department reduced elsewhere before cutting equipment operators or ferry service. Thirty-six percent of the positions eliminated were from support services. In other words, a section that is only 4 percent of budget accounted for over one-third of the total staffing cuts.

Another question I am frequently asked is: why not use some of the $500 million in federal funds to plow roads or run ferries? Believe me, I wish we could but maintenance and operations are not an allowable expense by the federal government. Every state in the nation agrees to the same provisions when accepting federal dollars. Federal funds may only be used to plan, design and construct state transportation infrastructure and the state must pay for the maintenance and operation of that infrastructure.

Alaska relies on the infusion of highly regulated federal funding to help build our transportation infrastructure. Including a small state match drawn from the general fund, these projects spur our economy by employing thousands in project consulting and construction industries and through the increased access, mobility and safety they provide to the public. ADOT&PF has hundreds of highly qualified and specialized employees whose salaries are directly paid for by federally funded projects.

ADOT&PF has an excellent track record of seeking, obtaining, and leveraging large amounts of federal transportation funding. At a time when state capital dollars are scarce it’s critical that we continue on our time-tested and proven track.

Since Alaska must self-fund transportation maintenance and operations, cutting ADOT&PF’s general funds has meant visible reductions in the services that Alaskans use and rely upon every day. Again, these are sobering fiscal times for Alaska. We have made hard choices and we have more difficult decisions ahead.

As these choices are debated, ADOT&PF will continue to pursue as many efficiencies and new technologies as possible to offset budget reductions. Tools such as TowPlows, icebreakers and anti-icing treatments do create cost savings, but still are not enough to close the gap. Consequently, Alaskans will see less service as long as cost-cutting remains the primary fiscal tool.

ADOT&PF is a service organization comprised of dedicated and professional Alaskans who are deeply committed to serve the public, while wholeheartedly embracing our department’s core values of integrity, excellence and respect. We are working hard for Alaskans to get the fiscal picture right. Our mission will remain “to Keep Alaska Moving through service and infrastructure.”

• Marc Luiken is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

More in Opinion

t
Opinion: Program gives me hope that cycles of family violence can be broken

The program is a holistic family-focused, culturally based counseling/treatment model…

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Deven Mitchell greets his fellow members of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s Board of Trustees at the start of his interview Monday to be the APFC’s new executive director. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: It’s an honor to now lead Alaska’s largest renewable resource

This October, I was provided the opportunity to serve as the Executive… Continue reading

t
Opinion: New to Medicare? Please consider this

Please choose “original” Medicare and avoid the so-called “advantage” plans

The Alaska State Capitol awaits a legislators forming new majority coalitions and the return of Gov. Mike Dunleavy after the winners of the general election were announced Wednesday. The Senate will have a 17-member bipartisan ruling coalition, while the House arrangement remains uncertain due to at least one likely recount and questions about partisan alignments. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The rising purple tide in the state Senate

A purple tide threatens to inundate the uncompromising wing of the state Republican Party.

t
Opinion: Giving is for everyone – and the time to act is now

You don’t have to be rich, or prominent, or famous to care about your community…

A roll of “I Voted” stickers await voters on Election Day in Alaska. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of a state constitutional convention. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Election winners, losers and poor losers

Tshibaka and Palin misread Alaskans by thinking Trump’s endorsement all but guaranteed they’d win.

Norwegian Cruise Lines announced in late August that it would donate a 2.9 acre plot of land owned by the cruise line since 2019 on Juneau's waterfront to Huna Totem Corporation to develop. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Aak’w Landing is Juneau’s most promising new project

Now, more than ever, our community needs the jobs, tax revenue, and stability…

Most Read