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Navy hints at cutbacks of its own

"Calling transportation a “critical’’ issue for the Navy in the Puget Sound region, commanders told a Washington legislative committee earlier this month that severe ferry cutbacks could cause the Navy to cut back on the business it does here.The state is considering cuts in ferry service to make up part of the effects of Initiative 695, which eliminated the state’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, or tab fee, and replaced it with a flat $30 fee.The initiative, passed by the voters in November, could cost Washington State Ferries, along with several local transit systems, millions of dollars in revenue.Representing Rear Adm. William Marshall, commander of Navy Region Northwest, Naval Station Bremerton commanding officer Capt. Judith Holden told the Legislature’s new Select Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs that transportation cuts will have a drastic effect on the Navy.“The issue that I bring to you is critical to the United States Navy, and that is (that) the location of our bases and our personnel make transportation a huge issue for us,’’ Holden said. “It doesn’t just take a car ride to get from Bremerton to Everett or to Whidbey Island, and vice versa. The traveling times are long and that means production time being taken away from the workspace and also significant cost to our people.’’The committee includes eight state senators and eight representatives whose districts have a military base or a reserve unit in their jurisdiction.Aside from productivity, the Navy is worried about families and dependents, Holden said. Its goal is to let families settle into a specific area to live, while the sailor in the family is allowed to rotate between ships and shore commands within the region every three to four years.Sailors successfully used a network of buses and ferries to commute back and forth across the Sound while the Everett-based USS Abraham Lincoln underwent work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyards in Bremerton, Holden said. But with the passing of I-695, reductions in Kitsap Transit Services on Sundays and holidays have hurt sailors who don’t have cars, along with civilians trying to get to work at local bases. In addition, van pools for afloat sailors on an overhaul status commuting from PSNS to Naval Station Everett were previously free, but will now cost a minimum of $94 a month per sailor, according to Holden.“That is a major impact on their quality of life and their decision to remain in the Navy,’’ Holden told the committee. “Tight ferry actions will have additional impacts on our cross-Sound requirements with the elimination of the passenger-only service, reduction in car ferry runs and the increased fares all impacting not just our workforce, but those spouses who seek employment elsewhere in the region.’’Holden said that rising costs could lead to higher maintenance costs for the Navy and they are re-evaluating where they homeport their ships and where they get overhauled.In response to Holden’s remarks, State Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen, the committee’s chair, said she thinks the federal government should take on a larger financial role to make military transportation issues work in the Puget Sound region.But Maj. Gen. Tim Lowenberg, adjutant general of the Washington National Guard and lead representative for the Washington Military Department, said in his closing remarks that the military already contributes greatly to state coffers. “This year we will contribute $5 billion in pay and allowance in the state of Washington,’’ Lowenberg said. “In addition to that, we collectively are expending in our local state economy an additional $366 million in construction funding.’’The military and its associated civilian employees ranks as the second largest employer in Washington state.Holden and Lowenberg spoke to the committee during its first hearing on Dec. 16 at Subase Bangor. It plans additional hearings after the first of the year."

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