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Ferry Advisory Committees might fall victim to budget

Gov. Christine Gregoire has listed Ferry Advisory Committees among 34 state boards and commissions proposed for elimination this year through legislative action.

The move fits into the governor's plan to nix 152 advisory bodies as part of a larger "government reform" package. The governor has already eliminated 56 boards and commissions by executive order.

House Bill 2087, proposed by Gregoire, would end the FACs and 33 other advisory groups in June. The governor has proposed another 62 groups to be eliminated in 2010.

Each ferry-served committee is represented by a FAC, which works as a liaison between the public and WSF on operational issues. The committees are appointed by local government and committee members are unpaid. The FACs hold four formal meetings each year with Washington State Ferries staff.

Governor's office spokesperson Laura Lockard said the intent of the governor's proposal is to make state government more efficient. Public outreach committees such as the FACs were included on the list in part because the governor is looking for more direct ways of communicating with the public, Lockard said.

"A lot of these actions are intended to streamline government as well as how input is gathered from the public," Lockard said.

Local Ferry Advisory Committee chairs were surprised by news that their committees were being considered for elimination, especially at a time when major revisions to WSF are being considered. Elliott said the FACs are needed to ensure public involvement as WSF's long-range plans are solidified and implemented.

"You're going to need a lot more public involvement if you want success," Elliott said.

Martha Burke, a Bainbridge resident and chair of the Executive Council of FACs, said the groups provide public outreach for WSF at very little taxpayer expense.

FAC members are given ferry passes to attend quarterly meetings, which are held in a training room at Colman Dock in Seattle. Burke said the level of staffing at the meetings is largely decided by WSF.

"They don't pay us; in fact, we spend our own money all the time," Burke said.

Which leaves Burke and Elliott to speculate whether the move was politically motivated.

"If it's not economically motivated, then what is it?" Elliott said.

WSF Communications Director Marta Coursey said her agency was not involved in the decision-making process, but did provide an analysis of the impact of the FACs' dissolution.

Coursey said that if FACs were dissolved, WSF would likely implement a broader and formal public outreach program that would communicate more directly with local city and county governments as well as citizens.

WSF is in the process compiling numbers on the cost of operating FACs, Coursey said.

Rep. Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge said she had not yet seen the legislation, but said she would work to maintain the groups.

"There is no question in my mind that they provide an invaluable service to ferry communities," Rolfes said.

Rolfes said she would like to see FACs to be maintained in their current form at least until the summer, when their roles could be reexamined. She said there needs to be a conversation on how to best facilitate public engagement on ferry issues.

"Dissolving Ferry Advisory Committees is not the first step," Rolfes said.

Check back for updates on this story. You can read the Ferry Advisory Committee charter below (courtesy Washington State Ferries):

FAC Charter

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