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Ferry fare hike delayed againOfficials say indecision coststhe system money.

"While decrying the financial problems facing the State of Washington, the legislature won't accept a helping hand.Almost three weeks after the state Transportation Commission was ready to approve an across-the-board fare increase, the state Legislature has still not approved a measure to allow the increase to take effect.And according to Washington State Ferries officials, the delays have already cost the system an estimated $400,000.The higher fares would have taken effect on May 13, had legislative action occurred by last week. If the action occurs by Thursday, the fare increase will begin on May 20, according to WSF spokesperson Pat Patterson.The problem is compounded because May 13, which is Mother's Day, is when the peak-season fares were supposed to take effect, she said. Patterson said that because of the costs involved in instituting new fares, it would not be cost-effective to institute the peak-season fare schedule on Mother's Day then add the general fare increase a week or so later.Legislative action is required to exempt the proposed ferry fare increases from the spending limitations imposed several years ago when voters adopted Initiative 601. That measure generally limits spending and fee increases to the rate of population growth or inflation. Under I-601, the fare increases would have been limited to roughly 3 percent.The higher fares are one response to the loss of the value-based Motor Vehicle Excise Tax. Because much of the $750 million in MVET revenue was dedicated to ferries, loss of those funds cost the system roughly $130 million annually - 25 percent of its operating budget and 80 percent of its capital budget.The Senate transportation budget included enough money to maintain ferry service at its present level, but was predicated on increasing fare-box recovery by $30 million over the next two years. The 20 percent increase would have raised an estimated $10 million of that money.The state House passed a bill to allow the fare increases several weeks ago. The Senate has not yet acted, apparently because of a dispute over whether or not to include a $10,000 parking-study appropriation in the limit-lifting bill.The WSF's frustration is apparent, and the revenue losses will continue, Patterson said.The $400,000 figure will probably apply every week until this is taken care of, she said. "

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