SEATTLE -- The Washington State Transportation Commission unanimously passed a 2.5 percent general ferry fare hike Monday to begin January 1, 2011, with one commissioner saying the KING 5 investigation "Waste on the Water" helped inform their decision.
Commissioner Carol Moser of Benton County was responding to testimony from initiative consultant Tim Eyman who questioned the rate hike in light of KING 5's reports which revealed millions of dollars of waste in overtime, purchasing and employee perks, as well as the large price tag of the newest ferry, the Chetzemoka.
"That (the KING 5 reports) was the very reason this commission decided to wait to enact any kind of ferry fare setting process," Moser said. "We didn't feel comfortable moving ahead with that process until we found out what the ferry system was going to do with these alleged violations."
Eyman argued the Commission cannot enact the new fares unless they are approved by a majority of the legislature under the recently passed Initiative 1053. The initiative requires all tax increases to be approved by two-thirds of the State House and Senate and all fee hikes be approved by the majority.
Eyman says the initiative is very specific that a ferry fare is a fee and a hike must be approved by the legislature. State Republican legislators have asked State Attorney General Rob McKenna to determine what constitutes a fee. Today, the Commissioners indicated they received a letter from McKenna saying they should be getting his decision in a week.
"It seems much more prudent for you to wait one week, seven days," said Eyman. "If your effort is to slip this in before 1053 takes effect then you're violating the spirit of the law as well as the intent of the law."
The proposed 2.5 percent general rate hike would take effect January 1, 2011. Rates on the San Juan Island routes would be increased an additional 2% and the early-week discount discontinued.
Commissioner Dan O'Neal stated the commissioners could vote now pending the Attorney General's ruling.
"The fact that we do it today, we do it next week, doesn't really matter because corrections can be made very easily," he said.