In an effort to fund the struggling state ferry system, Gov. Chris Gregoire Thursday proposed that authority over the ferries and the responsibility for funding them be transferred from the state government to a regional board. But the plan got an immediately cold reception from some lawmakers in both parties.
The plan would remove ferry system governance from the Washington Department of Transportation and cap the state contribution to the ferries.
“We cannot Band-Aid the (ferry) system any longer,” said Gregoire at a news conference announcing her proposal. “Once we get through the ’11-’13 budget, we will be in the red forever if we don’t take action this legislative session.”
Gregoire’s proposed system, which requires legislative approval, would bring in revenue for the ferries from local taxes in all or parts of Pierce, King, Snohomish, San Juan, Skagit, Island, Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties.
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Under Gregoire’s proposal, the ferry system would be governed by a board of elected representatives from those counties with some additional members appointed by the governor.
Aides to the governor said she was not prepared to say how much of the money for the ferries would come from the state government, though in her announcement Gregoire said state support at some level would remain, including help for buying new ferries.
Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said she opposed the idea that local taxes should help pay for the ferries in a statement she released along with four other Senate Democrats.
“Isolating the needs in our ferry system and creating another layer of government to address them is not the solution,” said the Democrats’ statement. “Users of ferries already pay into the highway system just like everybody else when they pay gas taxes, in addition to ferry fares.”
Anti-tax activist Tim Eyman also condemned the proposal, calling it an attempt to sidestep Initiative 1053, which requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes.
Gregoire said local representatives would be able to decide to reduce service to cut down the amount of tax money they would have to raise in their counties.
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said it would be unfair to ask local governments like hers to shoulder the burden of the ferry system. Like Snoqualmie Pass, which the state pays to maintain in the winter, McCarthy said the ferries are an extension of the highway system which the entire state should help pay for.
“This is not a burden the local counties can and should absorb,” she said. “This is the state’s responsibility.”
Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, foresaw opposition to this proposal among her constituents.
“My main concern is for any measure that adds new taxes to Pierce County residents, especially when they don’t necessarily use the ferry system,” Becker said. “We have one ferry and we would then be supporting all the ferries with Pierce County dollars.”
Katie Schmidt: 360-786-1826 email@example.com