Dunleavy seeks 'economic reshaping consultant' in bid to eliminate ferry system

The Dunleavy administration needs what it calls an “economic reshaping consultant,” which is not a miracle weight-loss coach, but an expert who will show how to eliminate or drastically alter the ferry system in Alaska.

As a candidate, Mike Dunleavy promised to make no cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System. “You can’t eliminate the ferry system in Southeast Alaska, that’s how we get around,” he told voters last year.

“I stand behind the fact that it is the backbone of transportation in Southeast Alaska, that we're gonna do everything we can to work with local stakeholders to make sure that it remains the backbone of transportation in Southeast,” Dunleavy told the Ketchikan newspaper during the campaign.

Now that he doesn’t need any votes from anyone in Southeast Alaska, he has abandoned the backbone pledge.

The Ketchikan Daily News, a conservative newspaper, says of him: “We see a governor who promised to ‘stand tall for Alaska’ in his campaign literature. We have yet to see that in practice. We get it that he’s a tall man at 6-foot-7. But we don’t get his type of leadership, if, indeed, that’s what it’s called.”

The newspaper sees “community wide devastation” under the Dunleavy approach.

Dunleavy acts as if he never made multiple promises to preserve the ferry system and refuses to explain why he wants to damage communities that rely on the ferry system for their existence.

He wants to spend up to $250,000 on the reshaping consultant who will be asked to work out the details.

The reshaping consultant is to “identify potential reductions of the state’s financial obligation and/or liability as related to the AMHS,” according to the official public notice.

“The project will include an analysis of options available for reshaping the system, such as through a public/private partnership, and a determination of the various options’ feasibility, with targeted implementation by July 1, 2020. The ongoing trend of a less than 35 percent fare box recovery rate coupled with low passenger and vehicle ridership has contributed to making the AMHS an increasingly expensive system to operate. AMHS will move towards other service options to realize short and long-term cost savings for state government and to promote economic growth in affected regions of the state.”

The consultant is supposed to look at these 10 ideas and more:

1. Sell or give all vessels and terminals to a private entity to run whatever service it thinks is appropriate.

2. Sell or give some vessels and terminals away to provide service to certain communities, such as those communities not on the National Highway System.

3. Transfer ferry system assets to a public corporation that would set service levels, fares and employee pay to require little or no state subsidy.

4. Lease vessels and terminals to a private entity, public corporation or nonprofit entity to run as a profitable business with the state responsible only for vessel and terminal overhaul and refurbishment.

5. Sell or lease vessels to a private entity, public corporation or nonprofit entity while retaining the terminals as a state asset. “There are examples of this in other states whereby the terminals are still eligible for federal aid,” the state says.

6. Continue the ferry system, but drop or reduce high-cost, low-volume runs. The state would sell ships it would no longer need.

7. AMHS continues as a state entity but contracts out to a private entity to use smaller ships and less expensive crews. Vehicle and passenger service could be provided by different vessels. Current marine union contracts already allow this for Pelican, Gustavus, Hoonah, Angoon, Tenakee and Kake, the state says.

8. Privatize all or some onboard passenger services: stateroom housekeeping, meal service, bars, gift shops, etc., to include consideration of freight delivery concepts such as small freight modules shipped aboard vessels.

9. Raise rates. This could include across-the-board increases, increases on more expensive runs, demand pricing for high demand periods or events, demand pricing based on percent of remaining vessel capacity, etc.

10. Pay workers less by renegotiating marine union contracts.

What do all 10 have in common?

Candidate Dunleavy never gave a hint of what he had in mind. No wonder he won’t hold public meetings in Southeast Alaska to defend this.


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