Budget cuts are on the minds of Alaska state legislators, and that could mean bad news for Bellingham.
Last week the Anchorage Daily News reported the governor’s budget proposal has deep cuts slated for the Alaska Marine Highway System. The proposal would reduce the budget from $140 million to $44 million and could eliminate long routes, including from Alaska to Bellingham.
As a result of the proposed budget cuts, the Alaska Marine Highway System has adjusted its ferry schedule. For trips between Alaska and Bellingham, regular service will remain in place through the end of September. As of now, no vessels in the entire system are scheduled to run starting October 2019 and going through June 2020, said Aurah Landau, a spokeswoman for the highway system, in an email on Wednesday.
The Alaska Department of Transportation intends to hire a marine consultant to identify potential reductions in funding from the state. That could include exploring public-private partnership opportunities, with a plan being implemented in July 2020.
This summer the ferryboat schedule from Bellingham includes Friday sailings on the MV Columbia and every-other-Saturday sailings on the MV Kennicott. In September, the sailings would be at least once a week.
Cutting the Bellingham-to-Alaska ferry route would be a blow to this area, according to the Port of Bellingham. In an email, Port spokesman Mike Hogan said around 30,000 passengers use the ferry to and from Bellingham each year. Bellingham-to-Ketchikan fare for a single passenger without a car is about $300.
An economic impact study estimates the run generates $4.2 million in revenue annually and employs 32 people in Whatcom County.
“The port is very concerned anytime cuts to the Alaska/Washington ferry route are proposed,” Hogan said, adding this is not the first time this cut has been proposed. “The port is confident legislators will continue to recognize the importance of this vital transportation link to the state’s economy and quality of life.”
Hogan noted at this point it is unknown what will happen with the ferry run beyond September until a final Alaska budget is passed later this year.
Alaska’s state budget has been running a deficit for several years, said Matt Shuckerow, press secretary for Alaska Gov. Michael Dunleavy. A big factor in Alaska’s budget woes is from falling oil tax revenue.