Governor’s proposal may give ferry users relief | Opinion | Jan. 12

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s plan to fund a $3.6 billion transportation package by placing a $1.50 fee on each barrel of oil produced in the state is a stopgap action at a time when Washington’s transportation infrastructure has critical needs and not enough money to fund it.

As a fee, the proposal skirts the two-thirds legislative vote required to pass new taxes – in this instance, a gas tax. She’s betting that there will be enough votes in the legislature for a simple-majority approval.

The gamble is of interest in Puget Sound because of the projected $1.3 billion deficit in the ferry system. Gregoire’s 10-year plan focuses on development and operations, but she believes WSF won’t survive in its present form without a new funding source.

She’s right about that, since currently 70 percent of the ferry system’s operations are funded by users, who pay even more on the Bainbridge and Kingston runs. What her proposal represents (as roughly one-third of the funding package) is an acknowledgement that WSF is an important component of the state’s Department of Transportation and not beneficial just to those of us living on the west side of the Cascades.

Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) thinks the proposal is a move in the right direction because it focuses on basic needs. Still, she has reservations since it does not include a replacement boat and would require a decrease in service this year in the West Sound – likely at Bremerton, Southworth and Port Townsend.

The legislature has much vetting to do before such a proposal becomes a reality, but at least the governor’s back-to-basics approach is equitable since everyone in the state would be sharing the burden. Yes, the argument against this “gas fee” is that the cost of fuel would increase since the oil producers would be reluctant to cut into their own profits – though they may be forced to. Nevertheless, the state must at least maintain this infrastructure.

Legislators must approve some form of the proposal since next year the gas tax funding and licensing revenue will dip even more.

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