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"Democrats, Republican trade barbs over ferry budget"

"There was plenty of finger-pointing in Olympia this week after House budget writers unveiled their spending proposals.Republicans claimed the Democratic budget, which gives the ferry system $10 million for operations and $17 million for capital, is shortsighted.I was more than extremely disappointed by it, Rep. Beverly Woods, R-23rd District, said of the Democrats' plan. Obviously, they haven't even considered our ferry crisis; $10 million won't even get us through the next session.Not so, said Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-35th District. Although the Democratic budget doesn't provide enough money to maintain all current service, it offers $7 million more to ferries than the Republican budget, she said.The Republican House budget was written by Rep. Tom Huff, R-26th District. It gives $20 million to ferries each year for operations and supports $1.3 billion in bonds for transportation projects in general.Democrats, including Rep. Jeff Morris of Sedro-Wooley, criticized the GOP plan for sacrificing schools to pave highways.The Republican plan diverts $104 million from motor vehicle-related sales taxes to state transportation programs. That sales tax money would have flowed into the state general fund, which pays for education.Transit agencies would also get a piece of the general fund pie under the Republican plan, with $50 million budgeted to cover fourth-quarter 1999 vehicle tax distributions and another $50 million for operating costs to be distributed to transit districts across the state.Democrats offer $130 million for transit out of the general fund. Of that, $80 million is to maintain service, and $50 million would pay transit agencies for their share of the fourth-quarter 1999 vehicle tax.Haigh said the Democrats' plan will support ferries much better than the Republican version. I did a lot of work with the ferry system to determine the right amount of money for ferry funding next year, she said. The Republicans just picked a number.Washington State Ferries officials asked for about $10 million to make its proposed cuts in service substantially smaller. A little more than $5 million would save some passenger-only service, while a little less than $5 million would support auto ferries.Haigh said the best part of the Democratic budget is the $17 million allocated for ferry capital. That amount will bring in $14.5 million more in federal matching funds, something she said the Republican budget won't get.We have $14 million in our taxes that are just sitting in the federal government budget, and to just throw that away would be stupid, she said.Haigh admitted the Democrats' budget only addresses ferry funding in the short term, but Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-23rd District, said that's exactly what it's supposed to do.This is a supplemental budget, he said. It's not shorter-sighted than (the Republican) plan. I think Beverly Woods needs to be honest (about her claim that the Republican plan is a long-term solution), because in the future she knows, too, that we have a lot of work to get long-term funding worked out.Rockefeller said he hopes a proposed task force on ferries will work this year for long-term ferry solutions that the Legislature might adopt next year. Our first task is to stabilize the patient, he said of the ailing ferry system. Then we'll talk long-term.But Woods, who represents the same district Rockefeller does, said there's a wide chasm between the two parties' proposals.This is not the answer, she said, adding Democrats are going to have to come a long way closer to where (Republicans) are at before I like it.The Senate's proposed budget, written by Democrats, will be released Monday. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island is chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee and will provide a third option for transportation funding then."

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