Initiative stops ferry fare hike before it starts

In November voters restricted the state from raising fees. Monday the move paid off when a planned 2.5 percent ferry fare increase set to start Jan. 1 was scuttled by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

Because of Initiative 1052, the Washington State Transportation Commission no longer has the authority to unilaterally raise fares on state ferries, according to an informal opinion released Monday by the state attorney general’s office.

The Transportation Commission approved a 2.5 percent fare increase for all routes in the ferry system last November, effective Jan. 1. However, voters on Nov. 2 approved Initiative 1053 that called into question whether the commission could legally authorize a fare increase.

The initiative, which was approved by a hefty 64 percent margin, reinstated the two-thirds legislative majority requirement needed for tax increases. It also requires majority legislative approval for fee increases.

Deputy Solicitor General Jeff Even determined that the “initiative accordingly rendered legislative approval granted before the enactment of I-1052 insufficient to authorize the increase or imposition of a fee.”

Marta Coursey, spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Ferries Division, said Tuesday that staff is reviewing the opinion to see how it affects the ferry system’s operations.

Washington State Ferries had been busy preparing for the Jan. 1 fare increase, but officials will now have to change their plans. One option is to ask the Legislature, which convenes in January, to approve the fare increase.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget ask for an additional 10 percent increase on ferry fares, which would also require legislative approval.

State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Enumclaw, requested the Attorney General’s office provide an opinion concerning Initiative 1053’s effect on the Washington State Transportation Commission’s authority, according to information provided by the attorney general’s office.

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