At the Sept. 12 port commission meeting, Commissioner Bill McGregor repeated the old saw about how a public Washington port such as Olympia is under no statutory requirement to operate profitably. McGregor’s distorted view stands in contrast to a common sense of fiduciary duty, and to that of the Washington Public Ports Association which defines a port as “a public entity with a profit motive.”
Poor governance produces poor operational results. A comparison between the Port of Olympia and other ports is enlightening. In terms of return on revenue, Olympia has a negative return of 25 percent whereas other ports such as Tacoma and Vancouver have positive returns of 25 percent. In simple terms, this means that for every operating revenue dollar it takes in, our port loses 25 cents on that dollar. A private company with similar results would be in bankruptcy. However, our port has the tax levy to bail it out.
A comparison of port tax levies is informative. For example, the Port of Anacortes is of similar size and has the same four business units as the Port of Olympia. However, the tax levy for Anacortes is $500,000 whereas it is $5.1 million for Olympia. Surely something is wrong when we pay 10 times more in tax subsidy than Anacortes.
These are the dismal results produced under McGregor’s governance. They are either the result of poor management or, more likely, from a stubborn denial that a key business unit, the marine terminal, is strategically obsolete and is not sustainable.
Change is needed.