Governor's Puget Sound ferry authority proposal a no-go in legislature

Jan 14, 2011

Legislators on both sides of the aisle are rejecting Governor Gregoire's proposal to fix the state ferry system's chronic deficit by making it into an independent taxing district. 

At a House Transportation Committee hearing yesterday, lawmakers nixed the idea, saying they don't think it has the votes to pass.  And as John Stang of the Kitsap Sun reports, the Chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee says she won't even give the proposal a hearing

Gregoire proposed a regional ferry authority last week, which would limit the state's role in the ferry system to partial funding and put responsibility for the service instead on the nine counties that rely on it most — Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson, Island, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, King and Pierce.   They would form a new taxing district, similar to Sound Transit or the Port of Seattle.

Gregoire  called it a "bold" solution to the state budget mess, according to Seattle Times writers Jonathan Martin and Susan Gilmore, her plan immediately faced deep skepticism

Gregoire acknowledged the inherent difficult politics of creating a new layer of government and a new tax, but she said the state's iconic ferry system can't survive in its current form after years of budget problems.  She says  it has lost more than $1.2 billion in tax revenue in the last decade, despite already drastic cuts to service and dramatic fare hikes - including a 20% fare hike in 2001.

What next?

Gregoire's budget already calls for a 10 percent fare increase over the next two years and cutting the number of daily sailings from 504 to 475.  The director of the state ferries, David Moseley, says labor and fuel now make up 80% of the system's costs and both are increasing - even after unions gave up raises they were entitled to in 2009-2011.  On Tuesday, in her State of the State speech, the governor said if the legislature rejects her proposal, they have to come up with another solution. 

"The hard work now is to figure out how to make the service run mean and lean," said House Transportation Committee  Chairwoman Judy Clibborn.