I-1053 may affect decision to raise ferry fares

  • Thu Nov 4th, 2010 7:08pm
  • News

By Bill Sheets Herald Writer

An increase in ferry fares could be approved as early as Nov. 15 — little more than two weeks before such a decision could have been prevented by I-1053.

Or not.

The state Transportation Commission is scheduled that day to consider a 2.5 percent increase in ferry fares to take effect Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, I-1053, best known for its restriction on the state Legislature from raising taxes without a two-thirds vote, was approved by voters on Tuesday.

Another aspect of the initiative says if any state fee is to be raised or imposed, it must be done by a majority vote of the Legislature, meaning that it cannot be done by an appointed body such as the state Transportation Commission.

The initiative takes effect Dec. 2, one month after the election. The initiative does not specify what would happen in case of a decision made before the day an initiative becomes effective regarding a fee increase to take place afterward.

Tim Eyman, sponsor of I-1053, says it’s a no-brainer, that what matters is when the increase takes effect, not when the decision is made.

“To us, it’s not even a close call, the fee is being increased,” he said.

In a sense, the Legislature has already made the decision, because in its 2010 session it directed the state to raise fares for the 2011 fiscal year, which spans the period from July 1 this year to June 30 next year.

The Legislature set a revenue target for the ferry system of $150 million for fiscal year 2011, compared with $148.3 million in 2010, a difference of $1.7 million, according to Jane Baker, deputy chief for administration and finance for the ferry system.

The target included an order to raise fares to reach the revenue goal, she said.

The 2.5 percent increase is proposed on all routes year-round, except on the San Juan Island routes, where the increase would be 4.5 percent to bring those fares into alignment with others in the system.

The seven-member Transportation Commission is planning a public hearing Nov. 15 in Seattle and expects to vote after the hearing, according to the commission’s website.

Despite Eyman’s certainty about the initiative, he and state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, have requested an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office on the matter before the Nov. 15 vote.

“Regardless of when it happens, it’s very, very important for the AG’s office to clarify this,” Eyman said.

If the decision were to be postponed and the Legislature approves the increase when it convenes in January, so be it, Eyman said.

“People would have a chance to weigh in on it,” he said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.