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Cuts in ferry service to begin in June

"Ferry commuters will feel the first crunch of Initiative 695 on their cross-sound trips when the boats start operating on June 27, 2000.That’s when the frequency of ferry runs is expected to decrease instead of the usual summer increase. Washington State Ferries spokeswoman Pat Patterson said the ferry system’s operating budget has been cut by 7 percent compared to last year because Initiative 695 repealed one of the system’s major funding sources, the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax.Prior to the November election, the ferry system claimed that 25 percent of its operating budget and virtually all of its capital budget would be destroyed if the measure passed. But state Secretary of Transportation Sid Morrison gave the ferry system a “bottom line budget” that was better than they expected.The operating budget drops over the next biennium from $316 million to $294 million, and the capital improvement budget is cut from $267 million to $161 million, a 40 percent decrease. Those huge numbers can be difficult to comprehend, so consider that Kitsap County’s 1999 budget was about $58 million, while the city of Bainbridge Island and the Port of Bremerton planned to spend just $8 million each.After the next two years, Patterson added, the capital budget drops to nearly nothing. “This sets us back years,” in terms of service, Patterson said. The capital budget will be used only for repair and maintenance of existing boats, and isn’t enough to pay for building new boats to replace exhausted vessels.The ferry system is currently working on a proposal for service changes and it will seek public input later this month. After that, the ferry system’s budget goes to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, Gov. Gary Locke and the state legislature for approval. That long process of approvals is the reason that I-695 budget cuts won’t be felt in the ferry schedule for six months.“Our priority is to find a long-term funding solution to this,” Patterson said. But in the meantime, she added, “It’s safe to say that our hopes for Kitsap ferry service expansion are not justified.”"

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