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Senate Transportation chair rips governor's ferry taxing district proposal

Even before Gov. Chris Gregoire called for a ferry taxing district, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, declared she doesn't support the idea.

"I'm totally against it," Haugen said two hours prior to Gregoire's noon announcement today. As chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Haugen has a lot of influence on transportation issues.

In her statement, Gregoire said the ferry system is in "serious financial trouble." She will introduce legislation to create a Puget Sound Regional Ferry District with taxing authority, consisting of Island, Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, King and Pierce counties. The district's funds would come from fares, a state subsidy to cover a "core level" of service, and the taxing authority, if implemented.

Almost simultaneously, Paula Hammond, secretary of transportation, released a statement saying the governor's proposal "adds a critical third leg to the stool to meet the long-term needs of this Washington icon on which so many depend."

"Absent major reform, the ferry system faces a drastic financial shortfall and customers will see unpredictability year after year. This means, old terminals, even older ferries and declining service," Hammond said.

Haugen wouldn't say why she's against the governor's proposal because it hadn't yet been made public, but she has funding ideas of her own.

The statewide gas tax increase of 5 cents per gallon approved by voters in 2003 is all spent or bonded for upcoming projects, Haugen said.

"The truth is we're running out of money; all the nickel money's gone," she said, hinting strongly that voters may be asked for a transportation tax increase later this year. She didn't specify if it would be a gas tax.

"We've got a $175 to $200 billion dollar problem, so there's a need," she said. But before asking voters for more money, she said the Legislature must make efficiencies and reform labor, particularly in the ferry system.

She admitted voters will eventually be asked for more, particularly since cities and counties are also out of transportation money. But she obviously does not want to break off the ferry system into a separate taxing district.

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