July 7th, 2021
A reminder that Eyman initiatives have consequences: “WSF couldn’t afford to build new boats for a decade, due to fallout from a car tab cut in 2000”
It has been over twenty years since Tim Eyman’s Initiative 695 appeared before Washington voters, got challenged in court, and then reinstated by Governor Gary Locke and state legislators. But the consequences of I-695 continue to reverberate, as a story published by The Seattle Times this morning illustrates.
Titled “Why your ferry might be late — or canceled — this summer,” the article attempts to explain what’s behind the staffing and equipment problems at Washington State Ferries, the nation’s largest marine highway system.
WSF was among the biggest victims of I-695, as a passage late in the story notes:
WSF couldn’t afford to build new boats for a decade, due to fallout from a car-tab cut in 2000. New taxes since the mid-2010s are replenishing the budget. The next boat, a 144-car hybrid electric-diesel vessel, will begin construction soon at Vigor in Seattle, but won’t sail until 2024. The existing fleet is working past retirement age, and three vessels are at or approaching 60 years old.
“Any time a ferry goes down, it shutters the whole system,” [Ryan] Brazeau [a fourth-generation ferry worker and officer in the Inlandboatmen’s Union] said.
That “car tab cut in 2000” was the implementation of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 695.
Before its elimination, a portion of the statewide motor vehicle excise tax was specifically dedicated to the ferry capital construction account and the ferry operations account. When those dollars were shut off, WSF was put into a precarious position… a position that continues today. As the article notes, it took more than a decade for the Legislature to authorize the construction of any new ferries. The fleet is aging and WSF hasn’t been getting new boats into service fast enough to compensate for problems on the veteran ones.
It is too late to rectify this problem in the short term. The stage for this sorry situation was set long ago. But the Legislature and Governor Inslee can make sure the future is different. Washington State Ferries needs more than a shot in the arm to become healthy in the 2020s. It needs a robust, large, ongoing investment. It needs dedicated revenue.
Legislators should fund all of the new boats the system needs (let’s get some electric ferries!) and increase pay for ferry workers so WSF can address its staffing needs.
While the new boats will take time to build, the staffing problems ought to be more readily addressable. WSF has waited far too long for resources: it’s time to invest now in our marine transportation network, to ensure it can serve the needs of Washingtonians and people visiting Washington well into the future.