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Governor proposes trimmed budget for WSF

The House Transportation Committee was presented with the governor’s proposed budget for WSF Monday, a budget that looks an awful lot like WSF’s much-maligned Plan B.

As with WSF’s worst-case-scenario long-range plan, Gov. Christine Gregoire’s two year budget and six-year financial plan would terminate runs from Anacortes to Sidney in September. It would also build just one 64-car ferry in the next six years and maintain a single-boat service from Port Townsend to Keystone while phasing in a reservation system for vehicles.

Jill Satran, Gregoire’s WSF policy advisor, said the budget reflected the governor’s realization there are no easy funding fixes on the horizon for WSF.

“(Gov. Gregoire) asked her budget staff to put together a budget for the next two years that starts to skinny down the system... that develops a system that meets the finances available currently to continue its operations and to make it financially viable,” Satran said.

Viable perhaps, but still not sustainable. Satran said WSF is the only component of the governor’s transportation budget that would not be balanced in six years.

Satran said the governor’s budget follows WSF’s proposed Plan B for the 2009-2011 biennium, but noted that Plan B extends over 22 years and would result in more extensive service cuts.

Satran said Plan B, which has drawn widespread public criticism, was developed under the direction of the governor as a “call to action.”

Rep. Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge was quick to ask who that reality check was directed at.

“You mentioned that you were looking at option A and option B as a call to action for our communities,” Rolfes said. “Our communities have been called to action for the last decade. I’m wondering if you can answer whether it’s a call to action for the Governor’s office?”

Satran responded that the plan was a call to action for a partnership between citizens, the Legislature and the governor.

Following Satran’s presentation, WSF chief David Moseley and DOT Secretary Paula Hammond presented a revised long-range plan for ferries which inludes a status-quo Plan A and scaled back Plan B. Changes to the plan were minimal, but testimony from more than 1,300 citizens was added.

The Transportation Committee also held hearings on a bill to fund foot ferries, as well as a bill sponsored by Rolfes that would open bidding on ferry construction to shipyards outside Washington.

Rolfe’s bill has drawn support from citizens and criticism from shipyards and trade unions. A full story from the hearing can be viewed at www.bainbridgereview.com.

The Legislature will soon have all the tools in place to begin formalizing WSF’s budget and long-range plans. The state Transportation Commission is expected to present long-range financial recommendations Feb. 18. An alternative“Plan C” may be introduced in early March.

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