State mismanagement of ferry system threatens coastal communities
Under the Dunleavy plan to dismantle state government, it remains impossible for anyone to reserve space on the Alaska Marine Highway System after September.
According to the state ferry system, no one can say when a schedule will be published or what it will contain. John MacKinnon, transportation commissioner, said for at least a dozen years the state hasn’t published fall and winter schedules before the budget is final.
That’s not the full story, as I told him. As recently as six years ago the state published draft schedules for the following winter in March, months before the budget was approved.
The need for a published draft schedule is more important than ever right now, given the announcement in February that Dunleavy wanted to cease all service in October. His budget included no funds for starting up service again next May.
MacKinnon has yet to respond about whether the foolish shutdown scheme has been officially abandoned.
If creating chaos is the goal, then chalk up a big victory for Dunleavy. The Legislature has added to the problem by cutting funding for ferry operations in a way that leaves real doubt about the future of coastal communities.
With all the blather about attracting new business to Alaska and the decision to bestow $441,000 on Bob Penney’s grandson, you would think that the governor would recognize the threat he has created for existing enterprises in Alaska.
The nonstop pandering on the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend, with Dunleavy acting as if the amount of the check is the only important thing, proceeds while state responsibilities are neglected. The incoherent approach to the ferry system is a prime example.
In a recent article published by Governing.com, temporary budget director Donna Arduin said her life as an itinerant gives her freedom to cut budgets that other state employees lack. “I have been willing to go from state to state, not concerned about getting my next job in the state capitol,” she says. “I have much more willingness to do those things a governor knows he has to do, and take the heat for it.”
As much as Dunleavy might like it, it won’t work that way. Long after Arduin is gone, the heat will be applied to Dunleavy, who made lavish promises as a candidate not to cut the ferry system and then did the opposite.
The Ketchikan Daily News, a conservative newspaper, said earlier this year: “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.”
Candidate Dunleavy promised to make the ferry system more efficient. “That’s not code word for lopping off and chopping off big aspects of it,” Dunleavy said. “But no, give us some feedback, ‘What are some ways we could make (AMHS) more efficient, what are some ways we can run the ferry better, and work with folks that are on the ground?”
On May 1 the Ketchikan paper had a story about a talk given by Shirley Marquardt, executive director of the state ferry system, on the struggle to keep the system afloat.
Before telling the audience that she had been fired, she said this:
"I've been waking up at 3 a.m. every single morning for the last two weeks. I just wake up and everything's running," she said. "And I woke up a couple of days ago and it just, it just really occurred, I just thought, wow, how did we go from almost 55 years of continuous service and economic stability and growth in these communities and in the system, even with mistakes that were made, things that weren't so efficient, things that could be done differently. This has always moved forward and all a sudden here in three months, three months, we're talking about throwing it away. How did that happen?"
Everyone in Alaska alarmed about the Dunleavy disaster should be asking the same question.