Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Last night's ferries meeting

Yesterday evening’s ferry-focused Transportation Committee meeting drew quite a crowd. Not only did Washington State Ferries (WSF) present its much-anticipated long-range ferry plan, but the committee also held a public hearing on two high-profile ferry bills. More than 20 people arrived to testify, including many representatives from ship-building companies around the Puget Sound.

One of the ferry bills, HB 1652, would remove a requirement that Washington state ferries be constructed in state. Sponsored by Rep. Christine Rolfes, the bill has bi-partisan support and it comes at the same time as WSF finalizes a long-range ferries plan that suggests ways to put the system back on sound footing. WSF has struggled to maintain its vessels and service levels since a major source of funding, the state motor vehicle excise tax, was eliminated in 1999.

During her presentation of the long-range ferry plan, Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond noted that during the state’s two most recent ferry vessel procurement periods, only one bid came in each time.

Some people point to this as evidence that opening up construction competition to out-of-state bidders would result in cost savings to taxpayers. But shipbuilding representatives counter that out-of-state building brings its own additional costs in terms of transporting the vessel back to Puget Sound, loss of tax benefits to the state, and loss of the in-state economic “multiplier effect” that construction provides.

Monday’s meeting was just the first of many high-profile ferry meetings to come this session.