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Whidbey lawmakers raise alarm over proposed 10-percent increase in ferry fares

State lawmakers from Whidbey Island are raising the alarm about the governor's proposed budget that includes a 10-percent hike in ferry fares next year.

Gov. Chris Gregoire unveiled her 2011-13 transportation budget on Wednesday, and the proposed increase in ferry fares in 2011 would be followed by another 2.5 increase in fares in 2012.

State Reps. Norma Smith and Barbara Bailey, both 10th District Republicans, said the increase would unfairly burden local residents.

“I’m very disappointed with the governor’s proposal," said Bailey, R-Oak Harbor.

"The governor said everyone needs to share in the sacrifices and pay more for less service, but she’s put some of the largest sacrifices on the people of Whidbey Island with this transportation budget," she said.

"The governor’s proposed budget places undue responsibility for the shortfalls on ferry customers and the communities dependent on our marine highways," added Smith, R-Clinton.

Bailey and Smith also raised concerns about the change in plans to have one ferry serve the Coupeville(Keystone)-Port Townsend route, instead of two.

The M/V Chetzemoka started serving the route in late November, and ferry officials have said that the second ferry planned for the route, the M/V Salish, will instead be sent to San Juans.

“We use the ferries as a water highway system, and for the past three years, our communities and local economies have suffered immensely as we’ve waited for replacement ferries for the Coupeville-Port Townsend run," Bailey said.

"We now have one of the new boats operating, but the governor’s plan would reduce service by denying the second vessel for the route. Combined with the large fare increases and the reduction in service, this proposal could be devastating to the citizens on Whidbey Island," she said. "Before we put this burden on the people of our state, we need to look more closely for efficiencies in the operation of the ferry system and do all we can to get the most out of existing transportation dollars.”

"Our businesses, families and communities were promised two vessels and a return to full service, and I will continue the fight to make that happen," Smith added. "I will continue working with my Democrat and Republican colleagues in the House ‘Ferry Caucus’ to propose solutions that are fair, and provide a responsible and sustainable direction for the future.”

In addition to the fare increases, the governor's proposed 2011-13 transportation budget also includes the addition of a fuel surcharge to the increased ferry fares. It would also eliminate the last round-trip night service on the Clinton-Mukilteo route.

The Legislature will convene on Jan. 10 for a scheduled 105-day session.

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