Washington state AG flipflops, ferry fare hike moves forward

Ferry riders will, once again, see a fare increase starting in 2011.

Washington State Department of Transportation Ferries Division will move forward with plans to implement a 2.5 percent fare increase on all routes beginning January 1.

The increase comes after the Washington State Attorney General's Office issued a clarification to an informal opinion released earlier in the week concerning Initiative 1053's effect on the Washington State Transportation Commission's authority to hike fares on state ferries.

That clarification said the Transportation Commission does have the authority to make the proposed increase because the rule-making order was completed Nov. 19, 2010, before the effective start date of Initiative 1053, according to a memorandum from Senior Assistant Attorney General Bryce Brown, writing to the Department of Transportation and the Washington State Transportation Commission. Initiative 1053 went into effect Dec. 2.

Kristin Alexander, spokesperson for the Washington State Attorney General's Office, said the lawyer who wrote the original opinion wasn't aware of the date the Washington State Transportation Commission approved the original fare increase. She added Department of Transportation officials had asked for a clarification on the original informal opinion.

Initiative 1053, which voters approved by a 64 percent margin during the Nov. 2 general election, 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 in the informal opinion released Dec. 20 that the "initiative accordingly rendered legislative approval granted before the enactment of I-1053 insufficient to authorize the increase or imposition of a fee."

Because of the opinion, the state Legislature will have to approve any future fare increase for Washington State Ferries. State lawmakers are considering an additional 10 percent fare increase proposed by the governor to offset a budget shortfall.

The commission-approved 2.5 percent fare increase is expected to bring in an additional $2.8 million through 2011.

Riders will pay $9.35 to drive their car onto the Port Townsend to Coupeville ferry and pay $7.20 to drive their car onto the Mukilteo to Clinton ferry.

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