San Juan County Council has responded to the call for letters to the governor regarding the current fiscal situation and WSF. The letter makes several excellent points and offers food for thought. If you have not yet written your letter to the governor, you may want to look at this first. If you have already sent your letter, this document includes many important talking points as things move forward.
Here is the full text of the letter which is also linked on the Documents page:
Dear Governor Gregoire,
We deeply appreciate the spotlight you have turned on the sacrifices the loss of tax funds has forced on many of the state’s most vital services. However we must strongly oppose your proposal to have the state separate itself from the ferry system. For us in San Juan County, there is nothing more essential to our economic survival than dependable, affordable ferry service.
The state’s responsibility for insuring that its residents, products and services can move freely and access markets throughout the state is one of its most basic responsibilities, and – we might add – it is the responsibility of all the state’s residents to fund this essential system.
As a tourist destination, San Juan County is an economic engine for the state and its potential for growth is large. It consistently receives high rankings as a destination in national and international travel publications. Last Friday, the New York Times, listed it second among “The 41 Places to Go in 2011,” along with locations in Europe, South America and Asia. Tourism drives the San Juan County economy (visitors spent $116 million in San Juan County in 2009), is the number four economic driver for the State, and is a major source of State revenue that can be increased.
In your news conference, you identified the challenges the marine highway system faces, but we are deeply concerned that a regional authority will not have the wherewithal to overcome two challenges in particular:
1. The lack of an identified and sufficient capital funding source. Your proposal transfers a huge, unfunded liability to an as-yet unformed entity that would have no endowment to fall back on, and;
2. The challenge of getting eastside ferry district residents to support taxes of the magnitude necessary to support a ferry service they benefit from but are not dependent on.
The State Constitution (Art. II Section 40) provides that ferries are an appropriate recipient of all fees, taxes and other state revenue intended to be used for highway purposes. But while WSDOT received 66% more revenue in the 1999-2001 biennium without the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) than it did in 1997-1999 with the MVET, since 1997 the percentage of WSDOT revenue allocated to ferries has decreased significantly and disproportionately. Now we face even deeper reductions in service and fare increases are proposed.
We applaud your efforts to design a system of governance that would be more economical and responsive to the needs of the communities served, and we will gladly work with you and WSDOT to help to create that level of governance. However, we believe that the state cannot walk away from its responsibility for maintaining an integrated transportation system that ties the people of Washington, its farmers, markets, industries and entire economy together.
We respectfully request some time from your busy schedule for members of our Council to meet with you to discuss the future and the funding of the Washington Ferry System, and the role it plays as an integral part of the transportation system that defines our state.
For your reference, we have attached several brief bullet points which describe the serious impact currently proposed ferry service cutbacks would have on our economy. They should help you understand the depth of our concern about the uncertainties which would come with turning the system over to a regional system with fewer resources, less experience and a narrower revenue base.
SAN JUAN COUNTY, WASHINGTON