Rep. Sam Kito III authored a bill letting communities contribute directly to the state ferry system. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Rep. Sam Kito III introduced legislation to let communities contribute directly to the state ferry system. (Photo by Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

A Southeast lawmaker wants communities to be able to contribute directly to the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Rep. Sam Kito III, a Juneau Democrat, authored House Bill 292, which had its first hearing last week in the House Transportation Committee.

He called it a simple, one-line bill that could help the financially-strapped ferry system.

“The intent is not that it goes back into a specific community, but that that money go into general pot to be used for the betterment of the marine highway system in some way,” he said.

That could be increased marketing or another effort.

Committee member Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican, asked whether the bill would exclude communities that don’t contribute.

Kito said it wouldn’t. And he said his legislation isn’t just about money.

“I see it more as a tool to bring the communities more to the table with the Department of Transportation, get them talking, maybe even formally over some kind of a memorandum of understanding or memorandum of agreement, that you become engaged as a shareholder in the marine highway system,” he said.

The bill remains in the House Transportation Committee and is not expected to progress this session.

The idea has not gone before the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board.

Chairman Robert Venables said he could see at least one possible use of the funds.

“Years ago there used to be interpretive specialists on board that would give talks along the way the different ports. There could be a scenario to where on certain vessels and certain routes those communities could possibly put together a program in and perhaps cooperatively hire that person,” he said.

Transportation Department officials said they’re drafting language to clarify that contributions would benefit more than the donating community.