Editor's column

"Washington State Ferries is facing yet another financial shortfall as short-sighted critics attack the on-board sale of alcoholic beverages, specifically beer and wine, the latter of which can be purchased on the rocks, which is where the ferry system is financially.Senate Bill 5277, sponsored by Paull Shin, D-Mukilteo, and co-sponsored by Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, would prohibit the sale of alcohol on the ferries based on the concern that the ferries are part of the state highway system. State Ferries bureaucrats are fighting such a change because they need the money. Alcohol sales net the ferry system $170,000 annually -- their minuscule cut of the booze sold by concessionaire Marriott Corp., which peddles $5 beers to captive drinkers. Right now the position of Washington State Ferries Director is vacant, and that money could pay a portion of the salary of someone else who obviously isn't needed. When a director is hired, he or she will likely appoint a committee to study the alcohol issue, and the committee will report back in a year that the money is needed to pay the director's salary.People can drive aboard the ferries, walk upstairs and drink alcohol until it's time to get back in their cars. While critics of drunk driving say this makes no sense, ferry officials see nothing wrong with it as long as it's their booze being swilled. You can't bring your own aboard the boat because that would be breaking the law. If you sit in your car and sip a beer purchased at some convenience store, you'll likely be hauled off to jail. So the wise alcohol consumer buys his ferry booze from the proper dispenser. Once Marriott and State Ferries get their cut, everything's legal.The effort to stop alcohol sales aboard ferries occurs annually in the Legislature, where it is talked about in Olympia's watering holes and then pigeon-holed in some committee. It probably will never succeed, particularly during a time when the ferries are sailing in difficult financial straits.In fact, a counter-bill might be appropriate, in which the example set by State Ferries is used to help fund other projects. Help pay for the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge with a state wine/beer pit stop located alongside the main highway, perhaps in an existing state highway rest area. Drivers can pull in for a quickie served by smiling Marriott bartenders and be on their way. Of course, for safety's sake they couldn't drink all day. Set the time limit to match the average ferry run, probably about 45 minutes. Then people probably wouldn't have time to get drunk in the state wine/beer pit stop, and the resulting revenue would offset bridge costs.These trying time demand more creative financing by state agencies. State Ferries is leading the way with its on-board alcohol sales. You say education funding is another concern? Why, cocktails in the high school cafeterias would help solve that problem. "

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