I-1053 could torpedo proposed ferry rate hikes

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by KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on November 5, 2010 at 5:56 PM

SEATTLE - As the state ferry system wrestles with a looming budget crisis, voters may have given it more troubles.

The Washington State Transportation Commission has proposed raising fares by 2.5 percent next year to help offset some $17 million in cuts that will have to be made.

But voters approved Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053 on Tuesday. Not only does it require all tax increases to be approved by two-thirds of the state Legislature, it says all fee increases have to be approved by lawmakers with a simple majority vote.

Eyman contends the fare increase is a fee increase and needs to be approved by the state Legislature.

"I think the law is clear that these decisions need to be made by the legislature and not the unelected transportation commission," said Eyman.

State Senator Pam Roach has written a letter to state Attorney General Rob McKenna asking for a formal opinion on whether a fare increase approved by the commision would violate I-1053.

In the letter, Roach asks, "The people have made it clear that they want all fee increases in any fiscal year to be specifically approved by the Legislature in a recorded vote. The commission's plans seem to violate that. Can the Transportation Commission raise taxes, fares, fees, or tolls without a vote of the Legislature?"

The commission plans to vote on the increase next month. But, the increase could be delayed or blocked.

"There's no free lunch. The guy who fills the tanks on the boats gets paid. The people who crew the boats get paid," said commission member Dick Ford.

The debate goes beyond ferries. Could the initiative blockthe state from tolling the 520 bridge or the planned tunnel under downtown Seattle?

The Transportation Commission is also asking McKenna for an opinion.

KING 5's Linda Brill contributed to this report.

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