Hey Kitsap, Get Used to Fewer Ferries

More telling than what they said Tuesday, was the body language. In the morning I asked the party leaders from both houses of the Legislature about ferries, but made the mistake of starting the question by naming one of the legislators, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt. I did not address the question specifically to him, but that’s how the legislators heard it, because I mentioned that he had said transportation funding would be difficult. Because I mentioned Hewitt, it apparently left an opening for House Speaker Frank Chopp, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown to remain silent. I did ask that they address ferries specifically in the funding. Hewitt said nothing about ferries. Chopp, Brown and DeBolt remained silent about everything.

In the last session, with two reps from the governor’s office, the ferry question got more attention than some in the audience might have preferred. The message was clear, that it won’t work to not identify the funding if the status quo plan is adopted by the Legislature. It also looked to me that Victor Moore, the governor’s budget director, was clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter, leaving a few of us from Kitsap to conclude that the prospects for ferries is not good.

We then went and visited with state Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. I wouldn’t characterize his demeanor as optimistic for ferry fans, but he seems ready for a fight. “Five-twenty is not going to be a two-lane road. Plan B is the equivalent of a two-lane road,” he said. Plan B, by the way, would cut Bremerton to one boat and eliminate night service there and in Kingston.

Then you read Ed Friedrich’s story on the what a legislative transportation policy group did and it seems the writing is on the wall. They met, said they’ll try to make the coming cut as painless as possible, then disbanded.

Prior to the election we asked the governor what was going to happen with ferries. Specifically we asked if ferry customers would feel better about the system in four years than they do now. I don’t think she tried to predict how customers would feel, but she said the state would run ferries like a business. That sounds a lot like what Jill Satran, the governor’s transportation policy expert, was saying yesterday.

“It’s all a matter of what can we pay to provide,” she said. “We either have to cut routes or skinny down the entire system. We’re looking at the best way to mitigate the impact on riders, and this looks like a possible way to do that.”

You can see the governor’s pre-election conversation about the budget and about ferries by watching the video below.

2 thoughts on “Hey Kitsap, Get Used to Fewer Ferries

  1. So what can the average Bremerton person do to make sure we keep our ferries? Is there a petition I can sign? A club I can join? Someone I can write?

  2. To me, it all comes down to cost and population served — the ferries cost a lot more than roads and bridges, yet they serve a tiny number of people compared to roads and bridges.

    If you want more state funding for ferries to serve a few thousand people, you have to take it away from roads and bridges that serve a few million people.

    I would like to see the state lay out the numbers. How much is spent by state, county and city governments to build and maintain roads and bridges in this state? Then, how much is spent to build and operate ferries? Finally, how many people are using those two types of transportation facilities?

    I’ve done a “back of the envelope” calculation sometime ago, and found that the state’s motor vehicle fuel tax revenue supports the ferries far more on a per-person basis than it supports the roads. From what I could tell, the ferries got three times as much of this revenue per rider as the roads get per user. So, I don’t think the ferries are being shortchanged in the distribution of fuel tax revenue.

    The one little gain ferries might deserve is to remove the state sales tax (not the fuel tax, which the ferries don’t pay) that is charged on purchases of fuel for the ferries. That simply skims off a little money for the general fund. It wouldn’t help much, but it ought to be done. Charging the 6.5 percent sales tax on ferry fuel purchases cancels out quite a bit of state funding for the ferries, especially when fuel prices soar and the tax paid soars with the price.

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