Legislature Passes Bill Protecting Marine Highway and Higher Education

JUNEAU – Funding sources for the Alaska Marine Highway and Alaska higher education scholarships are nearly off the table from future political fights. House Bill 322 passed the Legislature yesterday, which is designed to protect the Alaska Marine Highway and Higher Education Investment funds from the annual Constitutional Budget Reserve sweep.

 

The Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) sweep provision, established in the Alaska Constitution, requires that money in the general fund available for the appropriation at the end of each fiscal year be swept, or repaid, to the CBR. While the sweep is reversible by a 3/4 vote of the legislature, that outcome has become difficult to achieve in recent years. Moreover, funds previously held harmless from the annual repayment have since been interpreted as subject to the sweep, destabilizing crucial ongoing state services and longstanding funds.

 

HB 322 removes the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) Fund, the AMHS Vessel Replacement Fund, and the Higher Education Investment Fund (HEIF) from the equation by moving them from the state’s general fund to the state treasury.

 

“When Alaskans chart their trips on the Marine Highway, they want to know that the ferry schedule will be reliable and robust,” said Speaker Louise Stutes (R – Kodiak). “This legislation will help ensure the Marine Highway System consistently serves Alaskans, without a yearly fight over funding, while allowing AMHS to bank farebox receipts into an endowment that will help rebuild our fleet.”

 

“Alaska’s youth shouldn’t have to worry that the scholarships they were counting on to become our next generation of doctors, nurses, scientists and business leaders is arbitrarily on the chopping block each year,” said Representative Andy Josephson (D – Anchorage).

 

“The recipients of the merit-based Alaska Performance Scholarships and the needs-based Alaska Education Grants reward our best and brightest and assist those who are looking to advance their education,” said Representative Bart LeBon (R – Fairbanks). “We should promote every opportunity to keep the next generation of Alaskans here in Alaska.”

 

HB 322 passed the Senate with a vote of 14-4 and now goes to Governor Dunleavy’s desk for his signature.

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