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Transit's ferry plan faces long odds in Olypia

"Dick Hayes admits it’s a long shot.“I can’t get anybody in Las Vegas to give me odds on whether this would work,” said Kitsap Transit’s executive director.Nevertheless, he’s the man with a plan that could save passenger-only ferry service in Kitsap County. And so far, Hayes has the only proposal on the table to resurrect foot ferries after the state ferry system kills service this summer.The state Senate Transportation Committee, including two state senators who represent parts of Kitsap County – Bob Oke, R-26th District, and Tim Sheldon, D-35th District – will hear Hayes’ proposal today in Olympia. Hayes needs them to work on two points of legislation that will smooth the water for developing a public-private partnership to run the foot ferries. First, lawmakers must modify the high-capacity transportation law to allow speedier purchasing of boats. Second, they will need to clarify the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission law governing public-private partnerships.It’s a lot to ask for from a Legislature that is scheduled to be in session just 60 days, with many members facing re-election this year.It’s also a lot to ask from legislators reeling from the effects of Initiative 695, the tax-revolt measure that chopped $750 million out of the state budget and prohibited tax hikes without voter approval.Hayes is asking for $35 million to start up public-private, passenger-only ferry operation. It’s a one-time request, but it comes at a time when every community is looking for state money to fill in the gaps left by I-695. There isn’t enough to go around.Hayes, passenger-only ferry lobbyist Mike Ryherd and Kitsap County’s legislative delegation must jump several hurdles to get the rest of the state’s lawmakers to approve the request.First, should the foot ferry proposal get all $35 million requested? It’s a big chunk, but by comparison, the state ferry system has a $316 million operating budget and a $267 million capital improvements budget every two years. Second, do passenger-only ferries deserve the kind of money Washington State Ferries gets from the state Department of Transportation?It’s money that makes sense to most Kitsap County residents, who rely on ferries the way Spokane residents rely on Interstate 90. Although the state constitution established ferry routes as part of the state highway system, Hayes said some lawmakers might interpret that to apply only to auto ferries.Instead, passenger-only ferries could be likened to a regional transit authority (RTA), such as the King-Pierce-Snohomish County RTA that is constructing a light rail system. People in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties pay $15 in addition to their $30 car tab fee for the RTA. If passenger-only ferries are considered to be similar to an RTA, Kitsap County residents will probably have to pick up the foot ferries’ tab.But how should Kitsap County residents pay for their ferries? With $15 each year tacked onto their car tabs? Or with a sales tax hike? Voters have final say over both of these possible tax increases.Hayes’ plan proposes a seven-tenths of 1 percent sales tax hike that is expected to raise $17.5 million each year. He originally proposed a full-penny hike, but Hayes said that was cut back to ensure Kitsap County retailers remain competitive.Seattle-area consumers pay 8.6 percent sales tax, while Kitsap County residents pay 8.2 percent. Under Hayes’ proposal, consumers here would pay 8.9 percent sales tax, “but still remain competitive with Seattle and stay under that 9 percent ceiling,” he said.Automotive sales are the backbone of retail sales. “Basically, if they sink, we sink,” Hayes said. That, he added, is why he’s leery of making car shopping in Kitsap County much more expensive than Seattle. Foot ferry plan goes before Senate todayThe most recent incarnation of a passenger-only ferry plan will be presented to members of the Senate Transportation Committee today. This is what they will hear.• Kitsap Transit executive director Dick Hayes, who is developing the plan, proposes to buy eight 149-passenger boats for $2.5 million each and six 250-passenger boats for $4 million each.• Ferry terminal improvement proposals include $7 million in Seattle, $1 million in Bremerton, $5 million in Kingston, $6 million in Port Orchard and $6 million in Southworth. This includes park-and-ride lot improvements at varying distances from the terminals, with the expectation that Kitsap Transit buses would shuttle passengers between the ferries and the lots.• Hayes will ask the state for $35 million and an additional $5 million to $7 million in federal money.• Hayes proposes commuter runs directly between Port Orchard and Seattle and between Bremerton and Seattle. During off-peak hours, ferries would stop at both Kitsap County terminals before heading to Seattle.• Fares are predicted to be $4 for one-way passage and $7.50 for a round-trip. • Kitsap County residents will be asked to vote for a seven-tenths of 1 percent sales tax to subsidize the public-private system. The revenue is expected to be $17.5 million annually.• King County could join in the partnership; Vashon Islanders want passenger-only service into Seattle’s downtown core, and Hayes wants in on King County’s cheaper fuel prices.• Jefferson County could join in the partnership for summer weekend, tourist-oriented ferries between Seattle and Port Townsend.• Although Washington State Ferries expects to cut off passenger ferry service in June, Hayes doesn’t expect his plan to be operational for a year to 18 months. Where does the money go?Out of each $100 Kitsap County consumers spend, Kitsap Transit executive director Dick Hayes proposes the following tax allocations for mass transit:• 10 cents on Kitsap Transit service to prevent further cuts.• 10 cents on Kitsap Transit for feeder bus service to ferries.• 10 cents on capital for ferries and terminals for 18 months; thereafter on Kitsap Transit for more feeder bus service.• 10 cents on capital improvements for ferry terminals and the park-and-ride lots.• 30 cents to subsidize ferry service—paying 40 percent of operating costs while fares pay the other 60 percent. If voters approve the sales tax hike and that tax is collected before ferries begin running, Hayes will put this money in the capital pot."

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