OLYMPIA – The key House negotiators on the state’s Transportation budget unveiled their proposal today, a budget that outlines higher accountability and streamlined management in the Washington state ferry system (WSF).
The House proposal adamantly supports the need for the three 64-car ferries currently under construction, as well as setting aside $65 million – half the funding needed – immediately for a 144-car vessel beginning in the second year of the biennium.
“Above all else, we need greater accountability and cost-savings measures at WSF. That, and long-term funding to build new boats are my equal #1 priorities this session,” said Rep. Jeff Morris (D – Mount Vernon), the sponsor of WSF streamlining legislation this year. Morris’ policy ideas are incorporated into the budget, helping add up to more than $29 million in general operations and administrative reductions. “The choice is between spending our dollars more effectively, or drastically reducing our ferry service. I’m not willing to cut services to our island communities without first looking to save money in the system.”
$20.5 million in negotiated labor savings prevented deep service cuts
$5.8 million in reduced HQ and admin
$400,000 to eliminate the Marine Employee Commission
$3.1 million in reduced service
7.5 percent total fare increase in 2011, 2.5 percent in 2012
Ferry System Accountability as contained in the House proposal:
• At the bargaining table, Washington State Ferries (WSF) management and labor successfully reached an agreement to bring marine employee benefits more in line with represented general government employee benefits. These efforts will save $10 million per year.
• The Marine Employees Commission will be consolidated into the Public Employees Relations Commission resulting in $400,000 savings to the transportation budget.
• In addition, labor representatives have committed to starting these savings during the 2009-11 biennium, saving the system an additional $500,000.
• Reductions in headquarters and administrative activities will save an additional $5.8 million.
• Service reductions saving $3.1 million include:
o An extension of winter hours from 12 weeks to 20 weeks on the Anacortes-Sidney route, the Interisland route, and the Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth route.
o Reduction of late night service on the Mukilteo-Clinton route and the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route.
o Reduction of mid-day service on the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route and the Bremerton-Seattle route.
• Furthermore, ferry users will be asked to pay increased fares of 7.5 percent in 2011 and 2.5
percent in 2012.
As stated in the proposal, Morris’ Substitute House Bill 1516, holds WSF management accountable to “performance measures relating to worker and passenger safety, service effectiveness, on-time service, operating cost containment, and maintenance and capital program effectiveness.” It also sets timelines for meeting performance goals. If those aren’t met, then the public management team will be replaced with a private contractor. However, the bill would not affect any collective bargaining rights or agreements for ferry workers serving on the vessels or ports.
“I’ve been here since 1997, and there have been at least six directors, and several interim directors, of WSF in the time I’ve represented the 40th District on the House Floor,” said Morris during his floor speech. “And no matter how capable these directors have been, few of them have been able to permeate all the divisions within the Washington State Ferry system.
“This bill is measuring the performance of all managers at WSF, and it will vest all of them in the outcome. It’s no longer just the director who’s held accountable, it’s all the managers who are held accountable of meeting these performance criteria. And with all of them vested, we will see their performance improve; if not, we can change direction.”
“It’s time to try something new,” Morris had said in previous testimony on the bill. “We can either push management to realize some cost-savings, we can raise prices, or we can reduce service. Those are our choices.”