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Kitsap storms the capitol steps
"Hundreds of ferry-dependent commuters from Kitsap County and Vashon Island crowded the Capitol steps Feb. 22 for the 2001 Ferry Rally. Kitsap rally attendants had arrived at an Olympia marina after catching a chartered catamaran that departed Bremerton Thursday morning. From the marina, they walked uphill toward the Capitol campus, toting signs that called for action. They were there to protest a Tariff Policy Committee proposal to raise central sound auto ferry fares by at least 20 percent, and passenger-only fares by 135 percent this May. They also were in Olympia to demand lawmakers find a permanent funding source for WSF to replace what was lost when the motor vehicle excise tax fund was eliminated last year. It's time for the state to meet its responsibility, said Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-23rd District, to an eruption of cheers. We need real, long-term funding solutions - we need accountability and efficiency throughout the system and we need a fare structure that keeps ferries affordable for working families.Ferry service, Rockefeller said, is a necessity, not a luxury. Rockefeller was not alone in his call for reforms. Also attending the rally were his 23rd District House colleague, Beverly Woods, 35th District Democrats Kathy Haigh and Rep. Bill Eickmeyer, and 26th District Democrats Pat Lantz and Rep. Brock Jackley. From the state Senate were 26th District Republican Bob Oke, Tim Sheldon, D-35th District, and Betti Sheldon, D-23rd District. Kitsap lawmakers contended that the ferry system is part of the state highway system and should receive permanent state funding. The only problem is, ferry caucus members and constituents alike must convince the unconvinced - representatives of counties not dependent on ferries - before the next budget is written and approved. Kitsap County Commissioners Chris Endresen of Poulsbo and Jan Angel of Port Orchard also attended, and were among the officials urging the crowd to break off into groups following the rally and speak with legislators. It seems just like yesterday when we were last here, said Sen. Betti Sheldon, D-23rd District, referring to the 2000 ferry rally at Olympia. Let's make sure we don't have to again. Please go visit our colleagues in the Senate and the House and tell them about your concerns. Most attendants did just that and, if they didn't get a chance, most planned to e-mail key lawmakers shortly after the event to offer their concerns and suggestions on how to make the ferry system work. Willem Maas of Vashon Island suggested forming a regional transportation authority among the ferry-dependent counties that could oversee the ferry system. Don Bulmon of Bremerton suggested cutting down on passenger-only mid-day sailings, saving operating revenues for the heavily used rush-hour runs. Diane Smart rode the catamaran down from Bremerton that Thursday. She works for the city of Seattle, lives in Bremerton and uses the passenger ferry five days a week to commute to work. Smart conceded she could live in King County to avoid the necessity of the ferry system, but she couldn't afford to buy a house in that market. She doesn't mind the impending ferry fare increases, so long as they remain fair and don't break the budget of working families. Louis Mitchell, also of Bremerton, couldn't agree more with Smart. Mitchell moved from upstate New York recently to be guardian to his ailing sister in Kitsap County. Once a week, they travel to the University of Washington for special treatments not available on the peninsula. His family heavily depends on the reliability of the ferries and their affordability. It could be more than a month or two before WSF's fate is decided. Three committees in the House and Senate are wrestling with funding questions. One key piece of ferry legislation is Rockefeller's House Bill 2123. It would boost the amount of the existing gas tax dedicated to ferries by three and one-half cents per gallon. Three of those cents could go toward ferry capital, which could produce about $200 million each biennium. The remaining half-cent would appropriate $40 to operations each biennium. Rockefeller believes HB 2123 could provide the level of funding recommended by the Legislative Joint Task Force on Ferries. The bill would also create a separate Department of Ferries, separating the system from the Department of Transportation and the Transportation Commission. "