The state is facing a $3.5 billion operating budget deficit next year. The Senate Finance committee has proposed funding cuts to help deal with that shortfall.
This week, residents from all over Alaska testified to the Senate Finance committee on those proposed cuts. About 10 Skagway and Haines residents on Tuesday advocated for the ferry system, the Haines forestry office and public broadcasting.
Skagway residents who testified were most concerned about securing funding for the Alaska Marine Highway. Tyler Rose is a director at the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.
“Reductions in service and cancellations of patrons’ in-hand reservations and the effects that go with that will be an undue hardship not only to our businesses, but also a blight to the reputation of our state in the worldwide travel and tour community,” he said.
Beth Smith is a Skagway business owner. She told the finance committee, “We need more ferries, not fewer.”
“The Skagway winter economy is very challenging already, and the ferry generates much-needed business throughout the months. I can’t tell you how difficult it would be to reduce the ferry in the winter months here.”
In Haines, several people testified against cuts that would shut down the Haines State forestry office and eliminate the positions of two local foresters. Scott Rossman owns a small local logging company.
“I am alarmed at the decision to cut the forester positions in the Haines State Forest,” he said. “This action will effectively put me out of business along with about six other small operators here who depend on the Haines State Forest as the sole source of timber for their businesses. Almost all of what we do here proves Alaskan forest products to Alaskans. All of the economics stay in Alaska.”
Brenda Josephson, whose husband is one of the two local foresters, testified that without a Haines forestry office in charge of maintain logging roads, Haines residents would lose access to the forest.
Debra Schnabel and KHNS development director Sara Chapell testified against cuts to public broadcasting. KHNS is one of many public radio stations around the state that would be impacted by proposed cuts.
Once the Senate Finance Committee is done with their budget proposal, it will go to the full Senate for approval.
You can hear more of the testimony here.