Passengers enjoy the scenery during a Sept. 3, 2015, fast ferry Chenega sailing between Sitka and Juneau. Sitka would lose most of its ferry service under a schedule based on a reduced budget proposed by Gov. Bill Walker. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)Download AudioBudget cuts have already dramatically reduced Alaska Marine Highway sailings. And the recently-released spending plan for the next fiscal year calls for more. So, how does the ferry system fare in the governor’s budget? And will the Legislature make further cuts?State officials will soon release the final version of next summer’s ferry schedule.A draft, released in October, lays up four of the system’s 11 ships and further reduces sailings. And while there may be a few adjustments, officials say it will be largely unchanged.But Gov. Bill Walker’s budget doesn’t make it any worse.“The schedule we’re working on is in anticipation of what the governor’s proposed budget for FY-17 would be,” says marine highway spokesman Jeremy Woodrow.He says the budget proposes spending just over $142 million on the ferries in the fiscal year starting in July. That’s about 8 percent lower than this year and about 11 percent less than the previous year.But Woodrow says the cuts are not as deep as they sound. He says only about a third of the full, $13 million cut impacts operations.“The rest of those reductions come from a difference of last year’s budget being supplemented with excess fuel trigger money plus a one-time appropriation to allow the marine highway system to continue to run its schedule that was published the prior year,” he says.Overall, the budget funds about 300 weeks of sailings by the remaining ferries. That’s just shy of a 15 percent reduction.That’s what the governor wants. But it’s probably not what the Legislature will accept. Majority leaders say Walker should have proposed many more cuts across the operating budget.“I’m afraid it’s going to get a lot worse,” says Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan.He serves on his chamber’s Transportation Committee, as well as the panel that deals with the ferry system’s operating budget.“I know a lot of the legislators don’t understand what the Alaska Marine Highway System does. They understand that it gets their cars down here for the session. And that’s about all they understand,” he says.Egan, a Democrat, worries about far deeper cuts to the system’s budget and schedule.Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman, who sits on the same two committees, says this year’s cuts are already hurting the region’s economy.“The cuts are pretty substantial to start with and if the Legislature goes further, it’s going to be more detrimental,” he says.Stedman, a Republican, worries about Southcentral and Interior Alaska’s greater legislative power.“My concern is fairness within the marine highway and fairness across the state, that we don’t single out a couple of regions that end up with disproportional reductions. Clearly we haven’t shut down any highways in the Railbelt. And as far as I know, we have no plans on doing so,” he says.Last year, majority lawmakers proposed deep cuts in marine highway service. They included eliminating service to communities on the road system, which could have cut Haines, Skagway, Valdez, Whitter and Homer.Reductions in funding and sailings results in fewer jobs.But marine highway spokesman Woodrow says no one’s been laid off yet, because of turnover.“What’s happened to date is there hasn’t been anybody who’s wanted a job whose lost work, because there’s been enough positions available. What may happen in the future with less boats running, only time will tell,” he says.He says the ferry system employed close to 1,000 people in the 2014 fiscal year, the latest with totals available.
Liberacionistas sing “Viva Pepe” the party’s theme song following massive defeat @TheTicoTimes pic.twitter.com/KDjMKfHhVa— Lindsay Fendt (@LEFendt) April 7, 2014 “Most of us in the PLN were clear we weren’t going to win this election, but the difference [in votes] was much bigger than we thought,” Araya supporter Roberto Castro told The Tico Times at Liberation headquarters. “I think the people’s will was clear: They do not want a third National Liberation Party administration.”President-elect Solís and his campaign managed to displace Costa Rica’s oldest and most established political party, which won the presidency the last two consecutive terms.President Laura Chinchilla, whose troubled administration and ongoing scandals helped lay the groundwork for the PAC victory, called Solís to congratulate him. She also thanked Costa Ricans for another peaceful election unmarred by violence. PLN campaign manager Antonio Álvarez Desanti discusses the loss of his candidate Johnny Araya in Costa Rica’s 2014 presidential election on April 6. Lindsay Fendt/The Tico TimesThroughout the day and late into the night Costa Ricans stayed connected on social media. One Twitter user, @Denisblabla, summed up the historic day in less than 140 characters: “Acá unas crayolas cambian un gobierno; no las armas” – “Here a few voting crayons can change the government; not weapons.”https://twitter.com/denisblabla/status/453029753642307584Organization of American States Secretary General José Miguel Insulza recognized Solís’ victory and noted that voting was “absolutely tranquil.”Solís, a political scientist and historian at the UCR, surprised pollsters, who had him in fourth place ahead of the Feb. 2 first round of voting. He ended up taking first place, coming in with 30.6 percent of the vote, just slightly better than Araya’s 29.7 percent. But it was not enough to exceed the 40 percent plus one required to avoid a runoff.The PAC candidate has never held elected political office but is no stranger to the halls of power, working in several PLN administrations and serving as ambassador to Panama during the administration of José María Figueres (1994-1998), before leaving the party for the PAC in 2009 2005.Solís, the son of a cobbler and father of six, traces his roots back to his Jamaican-Chinese grandparents who worked banana plantations in the Caribbean province of Limón in the early 19th century. The candidate’s family history and humble demeanor resonated with voters fed up with perceived corruption, stagnant poverty and rising inequality in Central America’s oldest democracy.“My political strategy is aimed towards those who think professional politicians are no good,” Solís told The Tico Times last November.That strategy succeeded. President-elect Luis Guillermo Solís greets the crowd at Plaza Roosevelt in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, in eastern San José, on April 6, 2014. Alberto Font/The Tico TimesThe Tico Times’ L. Arias and Lindsay Fendt contributed to this report. Who is Luis Guillermo Solís? Read our full interview with him last November, and follow all of our election coverage at the hashtag #Elections 2014. Stay tuned for more analysis on Costa Rica’s historic 2014 presidential election. Facebook Comments Opposition candidate and former professor Luis Guillermo Solís easily won Sunday’s runoff election, ushering in Costa Rica’s first third-party candidate in 44 years.Rallying at Plaza Roosevelt in San Pedro, east of San José, Solís of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and red-and-yellow clad supporters cheered the results as the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) announced him the winner in a landslide with 77.8 percent of the votes to National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Johnny Araya’s 22.1 percent, with 96 percent of the votes counted Sunday night.“More than one million Costa Ricans said ‘yes’ to change” today, the president-elect told an exuberant crowd of supporters. “No longer will corruption live in our country.” A crowd of supporters reacts to an announcement that Citizen Action Party candidate Luis Guillermo Solís has just won the presidency, in eastern San José, on Sunday, April 6, 2014. Alberto Font/The Tico TimesAraya quickly conceded the race after the TSE released its initial count just after 8 p.m. showing Solís with more than 77 percent, with over 70 percent of the votes counted.“After hearing the results of more than 77 percent of the polling centers, we must congratulate the president-elect of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís,” Araya said. “With humility we must recognize Costa Rican people’s clear and forceful will.”Arguably, Araya had already conceded the race in March when he surprised his party followers by announcing he would stop campaigning after a disappointing showing in a University of Costa Rica poll and dwindling campaign funds. Araya, 56 and a former mayor of San José, left Solís unencumbered to clinch Sunday’s vote. National Liberation Party candidate Johnny Araya reacts to his loss in Costa Rica’s 2014 presidential runoff election on April 6, 2014. Lindsay Fendt/The Tico TimesSolís stressed that voter abstention would be his greatest challenge after Araya left the field, leading some analysts to wonder if low turnout would weaken his popular mandate. However, Solís exceeded his goal of 1 million votes, garnering just under 1.3 million – the most votes ever captured by a Costa Rican presidential candidate, according to Teletica. (Araya’s was the worst vote tally in PLN history.) Predictably, voter abstention remained higher than in the first round, at just over 43 percent compared to 31.8 percent on Feb. 2, according to the TSE. Still, at last count, Solís had managed to capture more votes than the number of voters who abstained, which also was just under 1.3 million.“I’m overwhelmed with pride, confidence and [a sense of] security for the country,” PAC supporter Sylbell Bedoya, 58, told The Tico Times at Sunday night’s post-election rally. “[Solís] has brought back confidence to the country, to the Costa Rican people.”Several PAC supporters waved brooms with red and yellow flags attached, signifying a sweep. Solís beat Araya in all seven Costa Rican provinces, and he even won in the former San José mayor’s own home town of Palmares by a margin of more than two to one.“It’s a broom to sweep away pericos!” Feliz Salas, a 65-year-old teachers representative, told The Tico Times, referring to the small green birds associated with the ruling PLN. Thousands of PAC supporters threw a party in eastern San José with five different Costa Rican bands to celebrate Luis Guillermo Solís’ victory. Alberto Font/the Tico TimesCompared to the festive atmosphere at Plaza Roosevelt, PLN headquarters – known as the Balcón Verde – in western San José was subdued, stinging from the trouncing at the polls. A group of Liberación youth dressed in green tried to liven the atmosphere by playing a live rendition of the party’s anthem, while an emotional Araya clapped along. But he looked as if he’d rather have been elsewhere. Related posts:What keeps Johnny Araya awake at night? UCR Poll: Solís running away with runoff election Johnny Araya is down and out, but not his party, says analyst Solís wins big but bigger challenges may be ahead, say analysts