Rockefeller finally taking the helm
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:38 PM
"Phil Rockefeller has taken the helm and set sail, and we're happy to bid him a smooth voyage.Readers will recall that two weeks ago in this space, we took the Bainbridge Democrat to task for failing to step up with a solid plan to save our ailing ferries. At that time, we chided Rockefeller and fellow Rep. Beverly Woods of Poulsbo for frittering away their days in Olympia haggling over the level of proposed ferry fare hikes, while the real issue - finding a new and stable funding source that will replenish the ferry system's depleted capital budget - languished for want of attention.Since then, the fare hike has indeed gotten all the headlines, drawing the ire of ferry riders at public meetings in Bremerton and elsewhere - while most legislators are still steering around the question of what other new revenue streams might be tapped. And we suspect Rockefeller himself has been smarting a bit from our comments; when we spoke with him this week, we felt a palpable chill - well before the first snowflakes appeared in the skies over Bainbridge.But we're pleased to hear, as reported elsewhere in this issue, that Rockefeller has unveiled legislation to create a new Washington State Department of Ferries. The plan is to salvage the system by removing it from the morass of the state transportation budget, where it competes for dollars against regional highway projects and various other improvements and needs. The director of the new department would be appointed by the governor, with dedicated funding coming from the state's gas tax revenues; the bill drew the co-sponsorship of Rep. Kathy Haigh of Shelton.We can't say Rockefeller's call for a separate ferries department (or whatever it might be dubbed) is the most pragmatic of solutions - mostly because we don't see it going too far. Handicappers within his own party this week gave it little chance of surviving committee for a vote on the floor. If the proposed source of funds - dedicating what equates to 21 percent of the gas tax exclusively to the ferry fleet - doesn't sink the plan, fears of a new bureaucracy almost surely will. Notwithstanding Rockefeller's goal of streamlining operations, the notion of new state departments isn't likely to win many allies.We'd almost say it has a snowball's chance on Bainbridge, but then look what happened.And truly, even though it represents just a shift of current revenues, Rockefeller's proposal is precisely the kind of bold stroke that needs to be considered to save the system. We were likewise intrigued by reports in the regional media that a former legislator has launched a petition drive - drawing 2,000 signatures so far - for a new excise tax on motor vehicles for ferry funding. A tax on cars to pay for mass transit - what a notion! It's almost like we've been here before.While the side issue of fares gets all the attention, it should be painfully obvious by now that the money has to come from someplace. Old, new or somewhere in between, it's time to talk about dedicated funding - and we're glad someone is finally doing so.Rockefeller has charted a course, and we hope he finds some wind in his sails. "