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North Kitsap ferry riders rally against proposed cuts

The Kingston/Edmonds run is one of the few that could be spared cuts. - Brad Camp/File photo
The Kingston/Edmonds run is one of the few that could be spared cuts.
— image credit: Brad Camp/File photo

KINGSTON — Cuts to Washington State Ferries proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire wouldn’t scratch the Kingston/Edmonds route.

That’s no reason for North Kitsap residents to be complacent, says Kari Ulatoski, a Vashon Island resident who leads the Ferry Community Partnership. Gregoire’s proposal will damage economies and property values in Westsound, while setting a precedent for future cuts, Ulatoski said.

What hurts one ferry-served community will eventually hurt them all.

“One thing we’ve been working on for several years is to stay unified and stand together,” Ulatoski said. “It really does effect them, one way or another.”

The Ferry Community Partnership is circulating a petition opposing the cuts. Organizers have collected 2,800 signatures on the street and online. Ulatoski hopes to deliver the petition to the Legislature early in this year’s session, which convenes Monday.

Opposition took root in December when Gregoire released a proposed budget for the 2011-2013 biennium.

The governor proposed deep cuts to Washington State Ferries in her early budget, but was also expected to announce policy changes for the agency on Thursday.

Washington State Ferries is facing an $865 million capital budget shortfall over the next 10 years, and a $180 million shortfall in its operating budget, according to budget proposal highlights released by Gregoire’s office.

To help close that gap, Gregoire recommended the Legislature reduce ferry service on every route except Kingston/Edmonds and Bainbridge/Seattle. Bremerton would lose night service after 9 p.m. under Gregoire’s plan.

One ferry would serve the Port Townsend/Coupeville route and construction of a new 144-car ferry would be suspended. In all, Gregoire’s plan would reduce the average number of daily ferry sailings from 505 to 477.

Those service cuts would be coupled with $2 million in cuts to the the agency’s administration and a 10 percent fare increase.

The state supported Washington State Ferries in previous years with transfers from other Department of Transportation funds. “This approach is not sustainable,” according to Gregoire’s budget proposal.

The Ferry Community Partnership calls the governor’s plan “draconian.”

“It’s going to economically negate some communities,” Ulatoski said.

The Partnership’s petition calls for the Legislature to avoid service cuts, find a statewide funding source for building ferries, resuming construction of the 144-car ferry and develop a sustainable ferry budget that considers “economic and social impacts.”

The petition is posted online at www.petitiononline.com/sosferry/petition.

The Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee strongly opposes the governor’s proposal.

Committee Chair Walt Elliott said the proposed fare hike is especially troubling for Kingston riders.

Kingston/Edmonds and Bainbridge/Seattle were the only routes in the system to turn a profit in 2010.

Kingston ferries earned about $5 million, covering the route’s expenses by 115 percent.

Riders already covering the expense of their service shouldn’t be expected to pay more to subsidize other routes, Elliott said.

“I think that does raise some equity issues,” he said.

The cuts – while severe for riders – represent a drop in the bucket of the Department of Transportation, Elliott said.

He believes the ferry system should be made more efficient before the burden of cost cutting is put on fare payers.

“That’s a lot of pain to inflict on riders,” Elliott said.

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