Five Wrangell residents testified Wednesday at a House Finance Committee hearing on the state’s proposed operating budget.

Several speakers expressed concern about proposed cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System and to education programs.

Wrangell resident Brian Merritt told the Finance Committee cuts to ferry service in the summer would be comparable to closing down the Alaska Highway four days a week.

“That’s kind of what it’s like when you try to mess with the Alaska Marine Mighway System here,” Merritt said. “That is something that is very important to the residents of Southeast Alaska and other parts of Alaska. So I do not suggest any cuts to that. Let’s maintain that system. It’s very important to us.”

Merritt also asked the committee to keep the Online With Libraries (OWL) program in place. He said it helps his students retain what they learned in school through the summer months.

Wrangell Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Mayer requested that the Finance Committee reverse a proposed $32 million cut to public education funding statewide.

“Specific impacts to the Wrangell school district, just for the 2.5 percent proposed reduction, will result in the loss of one certificated position and the loss of several aides,” Mayer said. “This would be very difficult for our district.”

Focusing on a different area of education, Michele Galla asked committee members to support Alaska’s Learning Network, which provides dual credit, Advanced Placement, college prep and career training classes.

“We finally have a distance learning program that is on the ground, connected across the state and serving students every day. I’ve taught for 22 years in Alaska. I’ve seen a lot of programs come and go. I’ve never seen one that has gone this successfully,” Galla said.

Wrangell Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch explained how cuts to both jail funding and Municipal Revenue Sharing would affect the community.

“We could probably survive keeping our jail open at the 2011 proposed funding level–which would be about a 60 percent cut in funding–if we receive the full revenue sharing amount,” Jabusch said. “The combination of both these reductions would possibly cause us to close our jail and shift the care of any prisoners and their transportation costs to the state.”

Jabusch also asked the committee to minimize cuts to public radio funding and to keep the Legislative Information Office in Wrangell.

Eighteen Wrangell residents were in line to testify, but many left when the budget hearing lasted much longer than expected.

The Alaska Legislature will likely finalize its budget next month.