Legislators already drift off course
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:35 PM
"It's said that centuries ago, as the age of exploration got under way, nautical mapmakers would caution sailors against straying too far into uncharted regions - warning them with such baleful inscriptions as Here be monsters. Those who dared navigate strange waters fared somewhat better than predicted. What they found were new lands, new riches - the whole point of taking the voyage in the first place.But the imagery seems apt, as Representatives Beverly Woods and Phil Rockefeller - key legislators who should be charting a course to save Washington State Ferries - seem reluctant to set sail and go. Instead, two weeks into the current session, they appear stuck in doldrums, their rudders spinning free, their ships adrift to no end.At issue is where to find $20-30 million per year in ferry operations funding - and another $100 million for capital costs such as vessel replacement - in a state budgeting process already constrained by new voter mandates, dedicated funds and an overall spending cap. But when these legislators should be looking at the big picture, the discussion has already broken down into the petty and picayune.Rockefeller is reluctant to lift a spending lid that would allow needed ferry fare hikes; Woods panders to commuters by trying to juggle the ferry system's books and pretend fare hikes aren't even necessary. Both have already lost site of the underlying problem:There is no money.We repeat:There is no money.As correctly noted by tariff policy committee chair Alice Tawresey and others, shifting funds from one side the ferry system ledger to the other - operations to capital - does nothing to keep the system afloat. And arguing about the price of fares at this stage of the voyage is lunacy; hikes are inevitable, as is the need for entirely new revenue sources. Ignoring those realities today will only foul the process in the coming months.Citing the years of work that went into the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations on transportation, Gov. Gary Locke gave sound direction in his remarks that opened the session: There are bi-partisan remedies to transportation right in front of us now, so any mention of needing more time to talk about this is out of the question. We all campaigned on transportation improvements and there's no reason why we can't get Washington moving now.The Blue Ribbon Commission's report lays bare the needs; our local legislators need to show resolve and put some spending proposals on the table for discussion, even if they look unpalatable or politically unpopular. Like Magellan, someone has to be first.Perhaps Woods and Rockefeller should head down to the nautical supply store and pick up a compass and sextant. Stuck arguing over direction - and apparently afraid of the monsters lurking at the corners of the map - they've lost track of their goal.At this rate, the fleet will founder long before they get anywhere near the edge of the earth. "