Rep. Norma Smith opposes governor’s ferry governance proposal

Gov. Christine Gregoire on Thursday proposed removing Washington State Ferries from the Department of Transportation and placing it under the oversight and administration of a new regional taxing authority. The ferry district would include all eight Western Washington counties now served by the ferry system, and with some state subsidy, provide the revenues and oversight for ferry operations. Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, released the following statement about the proposal:

“Washington state ferries are an integral and constitutional component of our state highway system. These marine highways are essential to the economic viability of Washington and the communities they serve. The governor’s proposal, with few details for analysis, fragments our transportation system, creates an entirely new taxing authority and punts on addressing the fundamental challenges within the ferry system. The plan removes responsibility from the governor and legislators to provide oversight and direction. This is unacceptable as Washingtonians continue to call for greater efficiency and accountability. I agree with the Governor that we need reform, but there are other alternatives that can reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and keep the ferry system an integral part of the state highway system.

“As we work to create a ferry system for the 21st Century, our decisions need to be fact-based, fair to Washington taxpayers and ensure efficient and reliable service on our state’s marine highways. To announce service cuts and a new layer of government with taxing authority without recognizing that 69 percent of the operating budget of Washington State Ferries is labor cost, demonstrates a lack of political courage needed to address serious reforms. I will continue to offer, along with my colleagues from both sides of the aisle, new policy ideas to address unsustainable cost drivers in the department, from construction costs to operational efficiencies.

“Rolling out this type of dramatic proposal regarding ferries that are a part of the transportation budget at the same time that news coverage is focused on the deficit in the operating budget creates unneeded confusion – these are two separate issues. There are three distinct budgets in Washington state: our operating budget, our transportation budget and our capital budget. We need clarity, not intentional confusion.

“In a statement in the Seattle P-I on January 4, the governor said, ‘you can’t keep doing something for nothing.’ Those in the Tenth District, and ferry communities around Puget Sound, have sustained significant fare increases year after year. On the Mukilteo to Clinton ferry run, riders pay nearly 100 percent of the operations cost in fares. To imply that our communities are asking for ferries but are not willing to sacrifice for them is misleading. We need to deal in facts, not hyperbole, to address the challenges before us; it is our duty.”


Washington State House Republican Communications