State Senator Jesse Kiehl traveled to Haines this week to meet with voters on the issues facing the region. At a town hall on Wednesday, the Juneau Democrat’s conversation focused on shortcomings in winter ferry service, the governor’s planned budget, state spending and more. Reports by Corinne Smith of KHNS.
Senator Jesse Kiehl said the Alaska Sea Route system and shortcomings in winter ferry service were a priority for residents of Haines during his recent visit.
“Well, people have come to tell me about the ferry service, the road snow removal service, the ferry service… some broadband issues, the ferry service, education and the ferries.”
He echoed the community’s frustration with the lack of travel options and called it a predictable crisis, given the failures of the past three years in reliable service. He said he supported the activation of the $ 60 million Alaska-class ferry docked in Juneau as a backup.
“The Tazlina is sitting tight against the dock. There are actually enough people to run it, if they just call the Inlandboatmen Union and the Masters, Mates and Pilots (union) and ask them, ”Kiehl said. “But instead, they tell me well, we just don’t have the crew. This is unacceptable.
On a more positive note, Kiehl says the long-term outlook for the ferry system is positive, as there will be federal funding through the $ 1,000 billion infrastructure bill passed by Congress.
“The good news is that we have opportunities for next year, thanks to the infrastructure bill, to get more of our ferries up and running and to increase our winter service. So we have the possibility of having more ships in service, and there is a possibility of reinforcements. And beyond a backup, just have something closer to adequate service for communities to connect to each other in winter, ”he said.
Kiehl said he expects the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 18, to focus on how Alaska will spend its infrastructure funding deals.
“We will be working on how to distribute the money for broadband, transport infrastructure and several other categories, we are all trying to read this bill and understand it as quickly as possible.”
The Upper Lynn Canal communities will have a new state representative as a result of Alaska’s redistribution process according to 2020 census data, but the Senate district Jesse Kiehl serves remains unchanged.
At Haines Town Hall on Wednesday, residents of Haines asked about public spending on education, as Klukwan opposes a possible closure of schools due to low enrollment rates, and Haines District grapples with year-to-year budgeting amid financial uncertainty in the state. Kiehl said he has consistently fought against budget cuts and this year opposed the governor’s proposal to continue cutting spending by $ 50 million to $ 200 million each year.
“Over the past six years, we have reduced the operating budget. And I’m just trying to be right here and talk about our recurring annual expenses, the operating budget. From about five and a half billion to about four and a half billion, ”he said. “I could make it look bigger. If you know, I looked six years ago at the capital budget, I could tell you that we cut $ 3 billion. Well, investment budgets for specific projects, right? It’s not really apples for apples. But if you really look apples to apples, we’ve cut our annual recurring expenses by about $ 1 billion, ”he said.
“And I’m here to tell you, you see it in the marine road network, you see it in our schools. You can review the list of services provided by the state. We are struggling to meet the needs of Alaskans right now. I don’t think there’s much left to cut, ”Kiehl said.
The governor’s budget is due on December 15. Kiehl says Dunleavy’s oil price projections are too high and therefore unrealistic to predict incoming revenue. He wants to see the state develop new sources of income, including an income tax.
“One of the problems we have is that economic growth doesn’t pay any of the state bills and the people in my job tend not to pay attention to it because it doesn’t pay the state bills. “, did he declare. “I have to tell you that in most states you will see the legislature paying all kinds of attention, having hearings on job growth, training and building small businesses, growing small businesses, creation of households. Demographics, right, how many working age people do we have, win, lose. I have never seen the Alaska State Legislature do this. It’s upside down and upside down… We have to, you know, pay attention to building a larger economy. But whoever has the gold makes the rules.
Kiehl was elected in 2018. He has filed an intention to run for re-election in 2022 for a two-year term. So far, no challenger has emerged for the Senate district which encompasses much of the upper enclave.
Kiehl urged residents to contact her office with any questions or assistance at (907) 465 – 4947, or by email at email@example.com.