Three bills to change the struggling Washington ferry system made it out of the Senate Transportation Committee Thursday, a move lawmakers said was their answer to ferry reforms the governor suggested earlier this year.
Senate Bill 5742, by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, would add a $0.25 charge to ferry fares to pay for a new vessels and would exempt ferry fuel from state sales tax. Senate bills 5405 and 5406, also by Haugen, would limit who can participate in ferry-worker unions and the kinds of benefits unions can negotiate with the state.
“The governor challenged us to come up with a better plan if we didn’t like hers,” said Haugen in a press release about the bills, referring to a proposal by the governor in January to fund the ferries with local taxes in the counties where they operate. “This is our answer. It’s not the entire answer — we still have more to do — but it’s a start in the right direction and it addresses the problem in a way that ferry-users can live with.”
According to the governor’s office, the ferry system lost $1.2 billion in funding since 1999 when voters approved Initiative 695 to repeal the state’s motor vehicle excise tax. Over the next ten years Washington State Ferries face a $900 million shortfall.
The bills’ fiscal notes predict that, over the next biennium, Senate Bill 5405 would bring in about $1.5 million, Senate Bill 5406, which sets up accountability measures for the ferry system, would cost about $800,000 and Senate Bill 5742 would bring in about $6.3 million.
To go into effect, the bills still need to get a Senate floor vote and pass the House.