Opinion

Time to stop ‘kicking the can’ | Guest column

Ferry service at risk with no new revenue - Contributed photo
Ferry service at risk with no new revenue
— image credit: Contributed photo

Ferry funding has been an ongoing issue every year since the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) disappeared 12 years ago.

And each year, after threatening cuts in service, the legislature has been able to beg, borrow and steal funds from other transportation accounts to keep the ferries going.

Fares have gone up dramatically over the last 12 years, but the cost of fuel has tripled and labor costs have gone up. Fares continue to pay for about two-thirds of total operating costs, with the remainder split between dedicated funding (various license fees) and the “borrowed” funds. No other public transit system (including roads) has anywhere near that level of ridership contribution, and as fares go up, ridership goes down.

We are once again facing service cuts, and this time there won’t likely be any "leftover" transportation funds to borrow from. Work has started on a series of mega-projects, including the Alaska Viaduct replacement and new 520 bridge, all with enormous appetites for cash.

Ferries are not alone, funds are also needed for highway maintenance and preservation also, but roads deteriorate over time while ferries stop running immediately without operating funds.

The governor has proposed a 10-year funding package totaling $3.7 billion to fund transportation maintenance and preservation, including $1 billion (over 10 years) for ferries. This would provide the operating and maintenance funds needed to maintain current service levels and maintain existing facilities.

New vessel construction is also needed, but is not included in this package. The package would be funded by a $1.50/barrel fee on processed oil, a fee on studded tires to compensate for road damage, and a fee for electric vehicles, which use roads but don't contribute to gas tax.

Without this funding package, we’re told that five routes would need to be cut in 2013, including Bremerton, Port Townsend and our Anacortes to Sidney run.

With the Sidney boat also goes 25 percent of our spring and fall mainland service, (the international boat spends 11 of its 18 hours providing domestic service). And deeper cuts would be needed in the following years.

The governor’s proposal has been introduced to both the state House and Senate (HB-2660 and SB-6455, respectively).

We attended the public hearings, as did FAC members and elected officials from other communities, to testify on the need for ferries funding and the likely impacts if not found. Most of the discussion, however, focused on road maintenance (which is easily deferred) and the potential effect of the barrel fee on local refineries.

Feedback so far is that, given the short session and pressures on the general budget, this proposal — and in particular the barrel fee — is meeting significant resistance.

Our questions to legislature have been: “If not this, then what? And if not now, then when?”

No answers, yet.

Please join us in asking the legislature to support long-term sustainable funding for ferries. Twelve years of kicking the can down the road is enough.

For more information see our website at http://sanjuanco.com/fac

— Column submitted by FAC Vice Chairman Jim Corenman.

Contact info; 40th District legislators:

■ Sen. Kevin Ranker: Olympia, 360 786-7678; Anacortes, 360 676-2160. Email: Kevin.Ranker@leg.wa.gov

■ Rep. Kristine Lytton: Olympia, 360 786-7800. Email: kristine.lytton@leg.wa.gov

■ Rep. Jeff Morris: Olympia, 360 786-7970; Mount Vernon, 360 588-6277. Email: jeff.morris@leg.wa.gov

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