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Transportation department proposes Alaska ferry service reductions

JUNEAU -- The state transportation department is proposing reductions in ferry service as part of an effort to cut costs.

The changes proposed for the next fiscal year include pushing back the start of service by the Taku between Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Juneau; and reducing service to Prince Rupert in the summer. Mainliner service to Sitka and Southeast Alaska communities also would be reduced, the department said.

The Malaspina would not run as a day boat in north Lynn Canal between July and September. Instead, service would be provided by mainliners and the LeConte, reducing the weekly number of port calls in Lynn Canal during that period, the department said. The department also has proposed reducing fast-ferry service in Southeast and Prince William Sound.

This comes as the department is planning to close bars on ferries and raise some fares.

The proposed ferry system cuts, which also include reducing spending on advertising, would be about $8.9 million, according to information recently provided to a House Finance subcommittee.

The issue came up during a House Finance Committee overview of the department's budget on Monday.

Department spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said by email that most of the ferry system's operating budget is associated with running the vessels. He said other items have been cut or reduced to limit service reductions, such as eliminating gift shops and free-pass programs.

Department budgets are being scrutinized by lawmakers grappling with a projected multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

Early Monday, a co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Anna MacKinnon, said she would recommend that no discretionary money be available for capital projects for the coming year.

Finance committee co-chairs often give lawmakers discretion in proposing how to spend a set amount of funds for their respective districts. MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, said she is trying to reset people's expectations, to let them know that kind of money won't be available for the upcoming budget.

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