Council May Add Ferry Service, Fish Taxes To Unalaska's Lobbying Priorities

Aug 28, 2019

The M/V Tustumena, photographed in Cold Bay. The state ferry calls on 13 communities along its summer route between Unalaska and Homer.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

Continued ferry service and shared fisheries taxes.

These are some of the new lobbying priorities under consideration as the Unalaska City Council prepares for meetings next month with its state and federal lobbyists.

The city's existing priorities include high-speed internet, habitat restoration, and funding for a $59 million overhaul of Captains Bay Road.

But in light of recent state budget cuts, City Manager Erin Reinders said councilors should expand that list.

"Because of the existing budget challenges at the state level, council might want to consider advocating a little bit more for the shared fisheries tax program, as well as ferry system support," said Reinders at Tuesday's council meeting. 

State funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System is down $40 million for fiscal year 2020, concerning residents, nonprofits, and businesses along the Aleutian route.

As for fisheries taxes, Unalaska stood to lose $8.3 million under a proposal by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who wanted the state to keep tax revenue from commercial fisheries instead of splitting it — as the state currently does — with coastal communities that receive and process the catch.

While that plan didn't gain traction for FY20, councilors agreed that Unalaska should advocate for its revenue, especially as they expect Dunleavy to push for further cuts in FY21. 

"Round two with the administration is going to be more of the same," said Mayor Frank Kelty. "It's going to be a battle."

Councilors are also considering new lobbying priorities centered on exploring alternative energy and increasing Unalaska's U.S. Coast Guard presence, which currently stands as a seven-person Marine Safety Detachment focused on fishing boats.  

The council is expected to finalize priorities at its next meeting on Sept. 10.

State lobbyist Diane Blumer will attend that session. Councilors are then scheduled to meet with federal lobbyist Brad Gilman on their annual trip to Washington D.C. during the week of Sept. 16.