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Tenth District trio ready for budget battle

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen crashes a champagne bottle over the hull of the Salish Wedneday at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle. She promises the boat will serve the Coupevlle to Port Townsend route, regardless of the governor’s wishes. - Photo courtesy of Todd Pacific Shipyards
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen crashes a champagne bottle over the hull of the Salish Wedneday at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle. She promises the boat will serve the Coupevlle to Port Townsend route, regardless of the governor’s wishes.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Todd Pacific Shipyards

The Tenth District’s three tastefully attired knights are ready to do battle with the state budget dragon beginning Monday in Olympia when the Legislature convenes.

The district’s senior delegate, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, will lead the charge, followed at times by her Republican colleagues, Rep. Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor and Rep. Norma Smith of Clinton.

Although of different parties, the three profess a willingness to tackle the monstrous multi-billion dollar budget deficit for 2011-2013 in a similar manner: reorganize and cut the bureaucracy, control pay and benefits for state workers, including teachers, and be prepared for a smaller role for government in the future.

The veteran Haugen is now the state’s senior senator and the long-time chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. She’s seen good times and bad, but nothing like the present economy.

“There’s no question about it, this is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” she said.

Although all three legislators favor cuts, they want to head off the governor’s effort to cut ferry service, particularly from Coupeville to Port Townsend. Gov. Chris Gregoire proposes serving the route with only one ferry, foregoing the tradition of doubling or tripling up during tourist season.

Haugen christened the new ferry Salish Wednesday at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle. It was built to serve the Coupeville route this summer and Haugen boldly told the christening crowd that’s where it will go, regardless of the governor’s wishes.

“The Salish is going to be on that route,” she emphasized Thursday, speaking of the twin of the Chetzemoka, which took over from a rented boat in November. “The Legislature ultimately makes the decision, and the people were promised that ferry.” She added, however, that the traditional service months may be shortened.

Rep. Bailey concurs, saying the second ferry crossing Admiralty Inlet helps business on Whidbey Island. “It was promised,” she said of the Salish’s presence on the route.

Smith is in the same boat on the ferry issue. “You’ve got three legislators doing our very best to make it happen,” she said of retaining two ferries in the spring and summer.

All three agree that other ferry costs will have to be controlled. “Labor is part of the solution,” Smith said.

Haugen said ferry staffing may be brought down to minimum levels required by the Coast Guard, particularly during slower parts of night. She doesn’t want to cut some late night trips, but admits that idea is a possibility.

Nor do the 10th District legislators want to close state parks or charge for day use, as the governor has proposed. Smith is particularly irked that the state has spent millions in recent years buying new park land when it can’t take care of what it has. “I’ve got a real issue with that,” she said.

State parks will be feeling some pain, though. Even Haugen, a staunch supporter of the parks system, said the hated day-use fee for park users may be back. “I’m afraid that’s probably going to happen,” she said.

This year’s budget problem is seen as bigger than either party.

“It’s not Democratic or Republican,” Bailey said. “It’s a crisis at the state level, an unavoidable crisis, and we’ll have to reshape, reset and reform government.”

Haugen predicts the 2011 Legislature will make fundamental changes, rather than just try to patch over problems as has been done in the past.

“It will be under control,” she said of the budget. “But it’ll never be back to where it was before.”

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