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Legislative fight delays fare hikes

"The state Transportation Commission once again delayed increasing ferry fares after the Legislature April 12 failed to pass a bill authorizing an exemption to Initiative 601 spending limits. The delay could cost the Washington State Ferries (WSF) an estimated $410,000 in expected revenue over the next month, because fare increases won't take effect until at least May 20, one week later than the projected deadline. This was our third or fourth meeting to resolve the fare increase issue this month, said Transportation Commission Chairwoman Connie Niva. We thought we were on a roll early on to meet the original deadline when peak hours also take effect in the summer. The Transportation Commission now plans to consider raising fares at its regularly scheduled Thursday, April 19, meeting in Olympia. Increases are expected to be 20 percent on auto ferries in Kitsap, and considerably higher on Bremerton passenger-only ferries.The I-601 exemption is stuck on an amendment that would authorize a $10,000 traffic study, which was added by the House March 14. The Senate axed that provision April 9, passing the bill back to the House for reconsideration. House leaders so far have refused to budge on that provision. It makes one wonder, said Niva. If such a little issue as this is causing such a stir, than how are lawmakers going to solve the greater transportation issue this session? The WSF is faced with an $85 million budget deficit over the next biennium, caused by the post-695 elimination of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax. Anticipated fare increases are expected to generate $30 million in additional revenue, leaving a more than $50 million gap for the Legislature to fill this session. The legislation causing the delay, House Bill 1012, would allow the Transportation Commission to increase fares this year by more than 3 percent. The 3 percent cap is set by I-601, a 1993 measure which capped fee hikes to the state's annual fiscal growth. "

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