Sponsor Statement for SB 130
An Act establishing the Alaska Marine Highway Authority; and providing for an effective date.
Senate Bill 130 would establish an Alaska Marine Highway Authority to assume management of the Marine Highway System from the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
The Authority would be a public corporation of the state as an instrumentality of DOT/PF, but would have a legal existence independent and separate from the state. The new Authority would be comparable to the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation or the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.
The powers of the Authority would rest with a seven member Board, appointed by the Governor. One member would be the Commissioner of Transportation. The six other members would be required to have experience in maritime affairs, would serve staggered five-year terms and would be subject to legislative confirmation. The Board would hire the system director.
Establishment of such an authority board would bring maritime experience, accountability and continuity to the management of the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Based on information gathered at public hearings over the interim prior to the 1997 Legislative Session, the Senate Task Force on the Alaska Marine Highway System concluded that the legislature should consider the creation of such an Authority.
Testimony received by the Task Force indicated that DOT management of the Marine Highway lacks focus and that AMHS administration under DOT lacks maritime experience.
Management under DOT has become insular and is unresponsive to input from vessel employees and the general public. Scheduling is chaotic and the fare structure has discouraged ridership. The reservations system has been an abject failure.
While concerns over funding levels are valid, the naturally bureaucratic mindset of the Department has tightened what former director Jim Ayers termed a "death spiral".
Establishment of the Alaska Marine Highway Authority will not be a panacea, but will give the system a new perspective.
This bill has earned the endorsement of the Inland Boatmen's Union of the Pacific, the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association. These unions represent the majority of AMHS employees.
The Ketchikan City Council, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, the Ketchikan Indian Corporation, the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce and the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau also have endorsed SB 130.
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