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Budget cuts could hit ferry service
As the state budget process gets rolling, reductions on Whidbey’s ferry routes are being considered.
Washington State Ferries was asked by the governor’s office to come up with $5 million in budget cuts for the upcoming biennial budget.
Ferry officials submitted their proposal to the governor’s office last week.
Officials are proposing to reduce two-boat ferry service to one-boat ferry service on the Port Townsend-to-Coupeville route for four weeks in the spring and four weeks in the fall. They also propose eliminating late-night service on the Mukilteo-to-Cinton route.
David Moseley, Washington State Ferries assistant secretary, said the proposal focused on ideas that would have the least effect for riders.
“These are sailings that don’t have high ridership,” Moseley said last week.
According to information from Washington State Ferries, reducing two-boat service on the Coupeville run would save the ferry system an estimated $486,000.
And eliminating the 12:30 a.m. sailing from Clinton and the 1:05 a.m. sailing from Mukilteo would save $934,000.
Despite the proposal, a prominent senator said the reductions won’t become a reality.
“It’s not going to happen as long as I’m chairman,” said state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, the Camano Island Democrat who heads the influential Senate Transportation Committee.
She said similar cuts were suggested two years ago, but those didn’t happen either.
“I told people we weren’t going to make cuts and we didn’t make cuts,” Haugen said.
She emphasized that she was instrumental in pushing through projects that improve the ferry system, most notably the construction of three 64-car vessels and the current construction of a 144-car vessel. Portions of those projects were built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland.
Haugen warned that state transportation priorities could change if she’s no longer in the senate. The longtime Dist. 10 senator placed second in the August primary behind state Rep. Barbara Bailey, a Republican from Oak Harbor.
Haugen said the ferries need a stable source of funding and she has some ideas for the next legislative session.
Moseley said that the ferry system’s proposal affects eight of the 10 routes and would be suggested regardless of who is in office.
In addition to the Whidbey Island routes, the ferry system is proposing to eliminate trips on the Port Defiance and Bremerton routes and extending winter service, essentially canceling sailings, from 12 weeks to 20 weeks.
The proposal also suggests eliminating a third vessel over the weekends on the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route.
In all, the ferry system’s proposal to the governor’s office comprises $4.8 million in cuts. Over the past several years, the ferry system reduced its budget by $40 million without reducing service, Moseley said.
The governor’s office is supposed to submit a proposal to the Legislature in mid-December; Moseley, however, thinks whoever is elected governor in November will submit a new version to the Legislature once in office.