Gregoire explains regional ferry district plan

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Gov. Christine Gregoire’s executive policy advisor Teresa Bernsten told the House Transportation Committee Thursday that the governor’s ferry system reorganization plan is patterned after successful ferry system operations in other parts of the U.S. and in Canada.

According to Bernsten, the plan is a division of the state Transportation Department but takes aspects from the British Columbia ferry system in that it provides some state funding and is a publicly owned corporation.

She said it’s also similar to the Golden Gate Ferry because it operates regionally and to the Steamship Authority in Massachusetts because it does not rely on any state subsidy but still has 100-percent farebox recovery, meaning it doesn’t lose money on operations.

At the Transportation Committee meeting, a panel including Gregoire’s legislative director Jim Justin, Berstein and David Moseley, Washington Department of Transportation assistant secretary for ferry system operations, elaborated on Gregoire’s plan to create a regional ferry district.

The governor unveiled the ferry system plan at news conferences last week and during her State of the State address to the Legislature on Tuesday.

Bernsten’s presentation established a loose schedule for the creation of a regional ferry district, as outlined by the governor, and explained Gregoire’s reasoning behind the project.

To establish a reasonable dollar amount for the state’s contribution to a Regional Ferry District, an interim ferry board would be formed. The board and the state would determine possible service costs and the core service possibilities would be referred to the Office of Financial Management.

Once developed, the board’s plan would be referred to taxpayers in the regional district for a vote.

The district, as proposed, would include the Puget Sound counties that now have Washington State Ferry connections: Jefferson, Kitsap, Pierce, King, Snohomish, Island and San Juan.

If the Legislature adopts the proposal, a permanent board would be elected by the district.

In addition to a core state fund, the ferries would require funds from fares, concessions and advertising, and local taxes if the district wished to expand service.

Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, said the new proposal sounded more attractive to him than Gregoire’s original three-legged approach, which involved only a state subsidy, fares and local taxes. He said the new approach seemed different since the communities would define the core service.

“If there is additional funding needed, maybe they could go to their local taxpayer,” he said.

When Gregoire’s Regional Ferry District proposal was proposed Jan. 6, legislators still had many questions. But after the plan was described in more detail at the Transportation Committee meeting, some representatives seemed more inclined to fine-tune the proposal.

Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said in response to the proposal, “It has been characterized as a death spiral but when you start looking at the charts it’s a good example of tightening our belts: Ferry communities giving a little, the state supporting us.”

However, she said, “Core service as defined by the governor’s proposal is essentially cutting off a lot of communities’ connection to the east side of the state at nighttime.”

In closing, Transportation Committee chair Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said, “We know the ferries are iconic to our state, they’re not just iconic to the counties in our state. We need to come together and fix this and a band-aid is not the appropriate fix this time.”

The response in the House Transportation Committee to the ferry system reorganization plan was in sharp contrast to its reception in the Senate, where Senate Transportation Committee Chair Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, declared after the governor’s address to the Legislature on Tuesday that such a ferry system plan is dead as far as she is concerned. Her committee would receive such a reorganization plan should it be proposed in bill form.



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